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"For forty years Jim Douglass has been our leading 
North American Catholic theologian of peace. But 
this monumental work on the witness of JFK is 

something deeper still. Douglass is trying to get us 
to connect the dots between our 'citizen denial/ the 
government's 'plausible deniability/ and the Un- 
speakable, This book has the potential to change 
our narrative about our country, and our lives as cit- 
izens and disciples:* — Ched Myers, author, 

Binding the Strong Man: 
A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus 

"In JFK and the Unspeakable Jim Douglass steadily 
guides us toward a strategy of peace. By dramatiz- 

ing JFK's remarkable conversion away from a U.S. 
foreign policy based on military threat and force, 
Douglass holds forth hope for current generations 
to similarly dismantle our addiction to war." 

— Kathy Kelly, 
Voices for Creative Nonviolence 

"Reading this book brings astonishment and deep 
sadness because of what might have been. Readers 
will, I hope, be inspired to work for a return to the 
kind of leadership JFK offered." 

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton 

James W. Douglass is a longtime peace activist and 
writer. He and his wife Shelley are co-founders of 
the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in 

Poulsbo, Washington, and Mary's House, a Catholic 
Worker house of hospitality in Birmingham, Ala- 
bama. His books include The Nonviolent Cross, The 
Nonviolent Coming of God, and Resistance and 


Covef Ph&to: Estate of Jacquw Lowe/Woodfin t Jmp 

Cover Design Roberta Savage and JohnT Roper, Jr 

Advance Praise for 

JFK and the Unspeakable 

"JFK and the Unspeakable is an exceptional achievement. Douglass has made the 
strongest case so far in the JFK assassination literature as to the Who and the 
Why of Dallas. The conjunction of unrestrained elements in cold war America — 
defense industry elites, Pentagon planners, and the heads of the intelligence com- 
munity — were the forces that led inexorably to Dallas and the assassination of 
President John F. Kennedy." — Gerald McKnight, author, 

Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why 

"With penetrating insight and unswerving integrity, Douglass probes the funda- 
mental truths, about JFK's assassination. If, he contends, humanity permits those 
truths to slip into history ignored and undefined it does so at its own peril. By 
far the most important book yet written on the subject." 

— Gaeton Fonzi, former Staff Investigator, 
U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations 

"Douglass presents, brilliantly, an unfamiliar yet thoroughly convincing account 
of a series of creditable decisions of John F. Kennedy — at odds with his initial 
Cold War stance — that earned him the secret distrust and hatred of hard-liners 
among the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA. Did this suspicion and rage lead 
directly to his murder by agents of these institutions, as Douglass concludes? 
Many readers who are not yet convinced of this 'beyond reasonable doubt' by 
Douglass's prosecutorial indictment will find themselves, perhaps — like myself — 


for the first time, compelled to call for an authoritative criminal investigation. 
Recent events give all the more urgency to learning what such an inquiry can 
teach us about how, by whom, and in whose interests this country is run. 

Daniel Ellsberg, author, 
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers 

"A remarkable book: devastating in its documented indictment of the dark forces 
that have long deformed the public life of this country, while also illuminating 
JFK's final vision of world peace and documenting beyond reasonable doubt the 
unspeakable assassination of our last partially admirable president. This book 
should be required reading for every American citizen." 

Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, 

Princeton University 

"For forty years Jim Douglass has been our leading North American Catholic 
theologian of peace. But this monumental work on the witness of JFK is some- 
thing deeper still. Douglass is trying to get us to connect the dots between our 'cit- 
izen denial,' the government's 'plausible deniability,' and the Unspeakable. This 
book has the potential to change our narrative about our country, and our lives 
as citizens and disciples. May we have ears to hear these truths, hearts able to 
bear their burden, and hands willing to build a new story." 

Ched Myers, author, 
Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus 

"Jim Douglass's spiritual and eloquent telling of President John F. Kennedy's 
martyrdom for peace is a peerless and extraordinary historical contribution." 

■Vincent J. Salandria, author, 
False Mystery: Essays on the Assassination of JFK 

"This book's story of JFK and the 'unspeakable' is a stunning mix of political 
thriller and meticulous scholarship. . . . Douglass's book offers a goldmine of 
information and is indispensable for building prophetic spirit and hope." 

■Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary 

"This is the most thoroughly researched and documented book ever written 
about President Kennedy's determination to prevent a nuclear war — and how 
his success in that struggle cost him his life. And yet, Douglass leads us well 
beyond the 'whodunit' dimensions of the story. He leads us straight into the 
urgent implications for the present, into what Thomas Merton called the 
'unspeakable.' In the shadows of our own time we begin to become better pre- 
pared to break free of the violence that threatens all of us today." 

•Don Mosley, co-founder, Jubilee Partners 

"A remarkable achievement, outstanding even in an overcrowded field. It is pro- 
foundly conceived, researched, considered, argued, and written. . . . Not all will 
agree with his detailed speculation as to what happened in Dallas. But Douglass's 
large picture of America's political agony is, I believe, incontrovertible and cer- 
tain to last." — Peter Dale Scott, author, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK 

"Douglass writes with moral force, clarity, and the careful attention to detail 
that will make JFK and the Unspeakable a sourcebook for many years to come, 
for it provides us with the stubborn facts needed to rebuild a constitutional 
democracy within the United States." — Marcus Raskin, co-founder, 

Institute for Policy Studies 




Jim Douglass never ceases to surprise us, taking us where we do not expect or 
often wish to go. In this fascinating work he links politics and spirituality. In re- 
forming the past he reshapes the future, with hope, thank God. 

•Bill J. Leonard, Dean and Professor of Church History, 

Wake Forest University Divinity School 

Jim Douglass is a courageous and single-minded Christian whose convictions 
are reflected in his life and witness. In this provocative new book, he brings 
together history and spirituality at the intersection of one of the most pivotal — 
and yet still mystifying — events of the past century. A myth-exploding story and 
compelling read." — Timothy George, Dean, 

Beeson Divinity School of Samford University 

"In JFK and the Unspeakable Jim Douglass steadily guides us toward a strategy 
of peace. By dramatizing JFK's remarkable conversion away from a U.S. foreign 
policy based on military threat and force, Douglass holds forth hope for current 
generations to similarly dismantle our addiction to war. 

•Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence 



Also by James W. Douglass 

The Nonviolent Cross 
Resistance and Contemplation 

Lightning East to West 
The Nonviolent Coming of God 


Why He Died and Why It Matters 

James W. Douglass 


Maryknoll, New York 10545 

Second Printing, July 2008 

Founded in 1970, Orbis Books endeavors to publish works that enlighten the mind, 
nourish the spirit, and challenge the conscience. The publishing arm of the Mary- 
knoll Fathers and Brothers, Orbis seeks to explore the global dimensions of the Chris- 
tian faith and mission, to invite dialogue with diverse cultures and religious traditions, 
and to serve the cause of reconciliation and peace. The books published reflect the 
views of their authors and do not represent the official position of the Maryknoll 
Society. To learn more about Maryknoll and Orbis Books, please visit our website at 

Copyright © 2008 by James W. Douglass. 

Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0308. 

All rights reserved. 

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any 
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any infor- 
mation storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the pub- 

Queries regarding rights and permissions should be addressed to: Orbis Books, P.O 
Box 308, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0308. 

Manufactured in the United States of America 

Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data 

Douglass, James W. 

JFK and the unspeakable : why he died and why it matters / James W. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 978-1-57075-755-6 

1. Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963 — Assassination. 2. 
Presidents — United States — Biography. I. Title. 

E842.9.D68 2008 

364.152'4— dc22 


To Vince Salandria and Marty Schotz 

teachers and friends 


You believe in redemption, don't you?" 

John F. Kennedy 
May 1, 1962 





1. A Cold Warrior Turns 

2. Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 

3. JFK and Vietnam 

4. Marked Out for Assassination 

5. Saigon and Chicago 

6. Washington and Dallas 


Ac know ledgments 












Commencement Address at American University 

(June 10, 1963) by President John F. Kennedy 382 







e can know the essential truth of President John F. Kennedy's assassi- 
nation. That truth can set us free. 

Thanks to the pioneer investigators into President Kennedy's murder, the 
truth-telling of many witnesses, and a recent flood of documents through the 
JFK Records Act, the truth is available. Not only can the conspiracy that 
most Americans have thought was likely now be seen in detail. Not only can 
we know what happened in Dallas. More important than filling in the crime 
scene, we can know the larger historical context of the assassination — why 
President Kennedy was murdered. We can know the liberating truth. The 
story of why JFK was gunned down is the subject of this book. 

I have told the story thematically and chronologically, point by point 
through a sea of witnesses. In brief that story is: 

On our behalf, at the height of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy risked com- 
mitting the greatest crime in history, starting a nuclear war. 

Before we knew it, he turned toward peace with the enemy who almost 
committed that crime with him. 

For turning to peace with his enemy (and ours), Kennedy was murdered 
by a power we cannot easily describe. Its unspeakable reality can be traced, 
suggested, recognized, and pondered. That is one purpose of this book. The 
other is to describe Kennedy's turning. 

I hope that, by following the story of JFK's encounter with the unspeak- 
able, we will be willing to encounter it, too. 

John Kennedy's story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made 
to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current 
today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The 
Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged 
in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Ter- 
rorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe 
only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in 
a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, 
assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy 



portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy 
turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the 
enemy is seen as human, everything changes. 

That reconciling method of dialogue — where mutual respect overcomes 
fear, and thus war — is again regarded as heretical in our dominant political 
theology. As a result, seeking truth in our opponents instead of victory over 
them can lead, as it did in the case of Kennedy, to one's isolation and death 
as a traitor. That ultimate crown is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "the cost of 
discipleship." There is no better reason for it than loving one's enemies 

not a sentimental love but, first of all, respect. Respect means recognizing 
and acknowledging our enemies' part of the truth, whether or not that makes 
life more difficult for us. Recognizing his enemies' truths made life much 
more difficult, and finally impossible, for Kennedy — leaving us with the 
responsibility of recognizing the painfully obvious truth of Kennedy's death. 

As recent polls indicate, three out of four Americans believe Kennedy was 
killed by a conspiracy. The evidence has long pointed toward our own gov- 
ernment. Yet with recurrent defenses of the Warren Commission, conjectures 
of Mob plots, and attacks on Kennedy's character, we in this media-drenched 
society drink the waters of uncertainty. We believe we cannot know ... a 
truth whose basic evidence has been present since the work of the Warren 
Commission's earliest critics. Could there be a deeper reason for our reluc- 
tance to know the truth? 

Is our wariness of the truth of JFK's assassination rooted in our fear of 
truth's consequences, to him and to us? For President Kennedy, a deepening 
commitment to dialogue with our enemies proved fatal. If we are unwilling 
as citizens to deal with that critical precedent, what twenty-first-century pres- 
ident will have the courage on our behalf to resist the powers that be and 
choose dialogue instead of war in response to our current enemies? 

The reader may wonder why the perspective of a contemplative monk, 
Thomas Merton, figures so prominently in a book about the JFK assassina- 
tion. Why is the Trappist monk Thomas Merton my Virgil on this pilgrim- 

Although this book is filled with history and biographical reconstruction, 

its ultimate purpose is to see more deeply into history than we are accus- 
tomed. If, for example, war is an unalterable reality of history, then we 
humans have a very short future left. Einstein said, "The unleashed power 
of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus 
drift toward unparalleled catastrophes." Unless we turn our thinking (and 
acting) away from war, we humans have had our day. Thomas Merton said 
it again and again at the height of the Cold War, as did Martin Luther King 
and John F. Kennedy. What the contemplative Thomas Merton brought to 
that fundamental truth of our nuclear age was an ontology of nonviolence, 
a Gandhian vision of reality that can transform the world as we know it. 
Reality is bigger than we think. The contemplative knows this transforming 
truth from experience. 



Thomas Merton has been my guide through a story of deepening dia- 
logue, assassination, and a hoped-for resurrection. While Kennedy is the sub- 
ject of this story, Merton is its first witness and chorus from his unique 
perspective in a monastery in the hills of Kentucky. In terms of where this nar- 
rative began and how it has been guided, it is contemplative history. Thanks 
to Merton's questions and insights, grounded on a detachment few other 
observers seemed to have, we can return to the history of JFK, the Cold War, 
and Dallas on a mind-bending pilgrimage of truth. Reality may indeed be 
bigger than we think. 

What is the reality underlying the possibility of nonviolent change? I 
believe the story of JFK and the unspeakable, a story of turning, is a hope- 
ful way into that question. 

Jim Douglass 
July 29, 2007 



hen John F. Kennedy was president, I was a graduate student struggling 
with the theological dimensions of the same question he grappled with 
more concretely in the White House: How could we survive our weapons of 
war, given the Cold War attitudes behind them? At the time I wrote articles 
seeking a way out of an apocalyptic war, without realizing that Kennedy 
at great risk — was as president seeking a genuine way out for us all. 

At that critical moment in history, Thomas Merton was the greatest spir- 
itual writer of his generation. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Moun- 
tain^ was seen as the post-World War II equivalent of The Confessions of 
Saint Augustine. Merton had gone on to write a series of classic works on 
prayer. However, when he turned his discerning writer's eye in the early six- 
ties to such issues as nuclear war and racism, his readers were shocked — and 
in some cases, energized. 

I first wrote Thomas Merton in 1961, at his monastery, the Abbey of 
Gethsemani in Kentucky, after reading a poem he had published in the 
Catholic Worker. Merton's poem was really an anti-poem, spoken by the 
commandant of a Nazi death camp. It was titled: "Chant to Be Used in Pro- 
cessions around a Site with Furnaces." Merton's "Chant" proceeded mat- 
ter-of-factly through the speaker's daily routine of genocide to these 
concluding lines: "Do not think yourself better because you burn up friends 
and enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have 
done." 1 

When I read those words, I was living in the spiritual silence that in 1961 
surrounded the threat of a nuclear holocaust. The reality underlying Cold 
War rhetoric was unspeakable. Merton's "Chant" broke the silence. The 
Unspeakable had been spoken — by the greatest spiritual writer of our time. 
I wrote him immediately. 

He answered my letter quickly. We corresponded on nonviolence and the 
nuclear threat. The next year Merton sent me a copy of a manuscript he had 
written, Peace in the Post-Christian Era. Because his superiors had forbid- 
den him to publish a book on war and peace that they felt "falsifies the 




monastic message," Merton mimeographed the text and mailed it to friends. 
Peace in the Post-Christian Era was a prophetic work responding to the spir- 
itual climate that was pushing the United States government toward nuclear 
war. One of its recurring themes was Merton's fear that the United States 
would launch a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union. He wrote, "There 
can be no question that at the time of writing what seems to be the most 
serious and crucial development in the policy of the United States is this 
indefinite but growing assumption of the necessity of a first strike." 2 

Thomas Merton was acutely aware that the president who might take 
such a fateful step was his fellow Catholic, John F. Kennedy. Among Merton's 
many correspondents at the time and another recipient of Peace in the Post- 
Christian Era was the president's sister-in-law, Ethel Kennedy. Merton shared 
his fear of war with Ethel Kennedy and his hope that John Kennedy would 
have the vision and courage to turn the country in a peaceful direction. In the 
months leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Merton agonized, prayed, 
and felt impotent, as he continued to write passionate antiwar letters to 
scores of other friends. 

During the thirteen fearful days of October 16-28, 1962, President John 
F. Kennedy did, as Thomas Merton feared, take the world to the brink of 
nuclear war, with the collaboration of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. 
Through the grace of God, however, Kennedy resisted the pressures for pre- 
emptive war. He instead negotiated a resolution of the missile crisis with his 
communist enemy by their making mutual concessions, some without the 
knowledge of JFK's national security advisers. Kennedy thereby turned away 
from a terrible evil and began a thirteen-month spiritual journey toward 
world peace. That journey, marked by contradictions, would result in his 
assassination by what Thomas Merton would identify later, in a broader 
context, as the Unspeakable. 

In 1962-64, I was living in Rome, studying theology and lobbying 
Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council for a statement condemning 
total war and supporting conscientious objection. I knew little of John 
Kennedy's halting spiritual journey toward peace. I did feel there was a har- 
mony between him and Pope John XXIII, as would be confirmed later by 
journalist Norman Cousins. When I met Cousins in Rome, I learned of his 
shuttle diplomacy as a secret messenger between the president, the pope, and 
the premier. I had no sense in those years that there may have been forces lin- 
ing up to murder Kennedy. Thomas Merton did, as shown by a strange 
prophecy he made. 

In a letter written to his friend W. H. Ferry in January 1962, Merton 
assessed Kennedy's character at that point in a negative, insightful way: "I 
have little confidence in Kennedy, I think he cannot fully measure up to the 
magnitude of his task, and lacks creative imagination and the deeper kind of 
sensitivity that is needed. Too much the Time and Life mentality, than which 
I can imagine nothing further, in reality, from, say, Lincoln. What is needed 

is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don't have: depth, 



humanity and a certain totality of self-forgetfulness and compassion, not just 
for individuals but for man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe 
Kennedy will break through into that some day by miracle. But such people 
are before long marked out for assassination." 3 

Merton's skeptical view of Kennedy allowed for a grain of hope and a 
contingent prophecy. As the United States moved closer to nuclear war, the 
monk undoubtedly prayed for the president's unlikely but necessary (for us 
all) conversion to a deeper, wider humanity — which, if it happened, would 

before long mark him out for assassination. As measured by the world, it 
was a dead-end prayer. But in terms of faith, such a sequence and conse- 
quence could be seen as cause for celebration. 

In the next twenty-two months, did Kennedy break through by miracle to 
a deeper humanity? 

Was he then marked out for assassination? 

John F. Kennedy was no saint. Nor was he any apostle of nonviolence. 
However, as we are all called to do, he was turning. Teshuvah, "turning," the 

rabbinic word for repentance, is the explanation for Kennedy's short-lived, 
contradictory journey toward peace. He was turning from what would have 
been the worst violence in history toward a new, more peaceful possibility in 
his and our lives. 

He was therefore in deadly conflict with the Unspeakable. 

"The Unspeakable" is a term Thomas Merton coined at the heart of the 
sixties after JFK's assassination — in the midst of the escalating Vietnam War, 
the nuclear arms race, and the further assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin 
Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. In each of those soul-shaking events Mer- 
ton sensed an evil whose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the capacity 
of words to describe. 

"One of the awful facts of our age," Merton wrote in 1965, "is the evi- 
dence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being 
by the presence of the Unspeakable." The Vietnam War, the race to a global 
war, and the interlocking murders of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin 

Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were all signs of the Unspeakable. It 
remains deeply present in our world. As Merton warned, "Those who are at 
present so eager to be reconciled with the world at any price must take care 
not to be reconciled with it under this particular aspect: as the nest of the 
Unspeakable. This is what too few are willing to see." 4 

When we become more deeply human, as Merton understood the process, 
the wellspring of our compassion moves us to confront the Unspeakable. 
Merton was pointing to a kind of systemic evil that defies speech. For Mer- 
ton, the Unspeakable was, at bottom, a void: "It is the void that contradicts 
everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets 
into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when 
they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the 
abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude 
of his obedience . . ." 5 



In our Cold War history, the Unspeakable was the void in our govern- 
ment's covert-action doctrine of "plausible deniability," sanctioned by the 
June 18, 1948, National Security Council directive NSC 10/2. 6 Under the 
direction of Allen Dulles, the CIA interpreted "plausible deniability" as a 
green light to assassinate national leaders, overthrow governments, and lie 
to cover up any trace of accountability — all for the sake of promoting U.S. 
interests and maintaining our nuclear-backed dominance over the Soviet 
Union and other nations. 7 

I was slow to see the Unspeakable in the assassination of John Kennedy. 
After JFK was killed, for more than three decades I saw no connection 
between his assassination and the theology of peace I was pursuing. Although 

I treasured Merton's insight into the Unspeakable, I did not explore its impli- 
cations in the national security state whose nuclear policies I rejected. I knew 
nothing of "plausible deniability," the unspeakable void of responsibility in 
our own national security state. That void of accountability for the CIA and 
our other security agencies, seen as necessary for covert crimes to protect 
our nuclear weapons primacy, made possible the JFK assassination and cover- 
up. While I wrote and acted in resistance to nuclear weapons that could kill 
millions, I remained oblivious of the fact that their existence at the heart of 
our national security state underlay the assassination of a president turning 
toward disarmament. 

By overlooking the deep changes in Kennedy's life and the forces behind 
his death, I contributed to a national climate of denial. Our collective denial 
of the obvious, in the setting up of Oswald and his transparent silencing by 
Ruby, made possible the Dallas cover-up. The success of the cover-up was the 
indispensable foundation for the subsequent murders of Malcolm X, Mar- 
tin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy by the same forces at work in our gov- 
ernment — and in ourselves. Hope for change in the world was targeted and 
killed four times over. The cover-up of all four murders, each leading into the 
next, was based, first of all, on denial — not the government's but our own. 

The unspeakable is not far away. 

Martin Luther King's assassination awakened me. When King was mur- 
dered, I was a thirty-year-old professor of religion at the University of 
Hawaii. I had a seminar entitled "The Theology of Peace" with a dozen stu- 
dents. At our first class after Dr. King was killed, several of the students failed 
to show up on time. When they came in, they made an announcement to the 
class. They said that in response to the assassination of King, who had given 
his life for peace and justice, they had held an impromptu rally on campus. 
They had burned their draft cards, thereby becoming liable to years in prison. 
They said they were now forming the Hawaii Resistance. They asked if I 
would like to join their group. It was a friendly invitation, but it bore the 
implication: "Put up or shut up, Mr. Professor of Nonviolence." A month 
later, we sat in front of a convoy of trucks taking the members of the Hawaii 
National Guard to Oahu's Jungle Warfare Training Center, on their way to 
the jungles of Vietnam. I went to jail for two weeks — the beginning of the end 
of my academic career. Members of the Hawaii Resistance served from six 



months to two years in prison for their draft resistance or wound up going 
into exile in Sweden or Canada. 

Thirty-one years later I learned much more about King's murder. I 
attended the only trial ever held for it. The trial took place in Memphis, only 
a few blocks from the Lorraine Motel where King was killed. In a wrongful 
death lawsuit initiated by the King family, seventy witnesses testified over a 
six-week period. They described a sophisticated government plot that 
involved the FBI, the CIA, the Memphis Police, Mafia intermediaries, and an 
Army Special Forces sniper team. The twelve jurors, six black and six white, 
returned after two and one-half hours of deliberation with a verdict that 
King had been assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own 
government. 8 

In the course of my journey into Martin Luther King's martyrdom, my 
eyes were opened to parallel questions in the murders of John F. Kennedy, 
Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy. I went to Dallas, Chicago, New York, 
and other sites to interview witnesses. I studied critical government docu- 
ments in each of their cases. Eventually I came to see all four of them together 
as four versions of the same story. JFK, Malcolm, Martin, and RFK were 

four proponents of change who were murdered by shadowy intelligence 
agencies using intermediaries and scapegoats under the cover of "plausible 
deniability." Beneath their assassinations lay the evil void of responsibility 
that Merton identified as the unspeakable. 

The Unspeakable is not far away. It is not somewhere out there, identical 
with a government that became foreign to us. The emptiness of the void, the 
vacuum of responsibility and compassion, is in ourselves. Our citizen denial 
provides the ground for the government's doctrine of "plausible deniabil- 
ity." John F. Kennedy's assassination is rooted in our denial of our nation's 
crimes in World War II that began the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. 
As a growing precedent to JFK's assassination by his own national security 
state, we U.S. citizens supported our government when it destroyed whole 
cities (Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki), when it protected 
our Cold War security by world-destructive weapons, and when it carried out 
the covert murders of foreign leaders with "plausible deniability" in a way 
that was obvious to critical observers. By avoiding our responsibility for the 
escalating crimes of state done for our security, we who failed to confront the 
Unspeakable opened the door to JFK's assassination and its cover-up. The 
unspeakable is not far away. 

It was Thomas Merton's compassion as a human being that drew him 
into his own encounter with the Unspeakable. I love what Merton wrote 
about compassion in The Sign of Jonas: "It is in the desert of compassion that 
the thirsty land turns into springs of water, that the poor possess all things." 9 

Compassion is our source of nonviolent social transformation. A pro- 
foundly human compassion was Merton's wellspring for his encounter with 
the Unspeakable in the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and nuclear annihila- 
tion. Merton's understanding and encouragement sustained many of us 
through those years, especially in our resistance to the Vietnam War. As Mer- 

• » 



ton's own opposition deepened to the evil of that war, he went on a pil- 
grimage to the East for a more profound encounter. He was electrocuted by 
a fan at a conference center in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the conclu- 
sion of his journey into a deeper, more compassionate humanity. 

"The human being" was Jesus' name for himself, literally "the son of the 
man," in Greek ho huios tou anthropou. 10 Jesus' self-identification signified 

a new, compassionate humanity willing to love our enemies and walk the 
way of the cross. Jesus told his disciples again and again about "the human 
being," meaning a personal and collective humanity that he identified with 
himself. Against his followers' protests, he told them repeatedly that the 
human being must suffer. The human being must be rejected by the ruling 
powers, must be killed, and will rise again. 11 This is the glory of humanity. 
As he put it in John's Gospel, "The hour has come for the human being to 
be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the 
earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 

What Jesus was all about, what we as human beings are all about in our 
deepest nature, is giving our lives for one another. By bearing that witness of 
martyrdom, he taught, we will come to know what humanity really is in its 
glory, on earth as it is in heaven. A martyr is therefore a living witness to 
our new humanity. 

Was John F. Kennedy a martyr, one who in spite of contradictions gave his 
life as witness to a new, more peaceful humanity? 

That question never occurred to me when Kennedy died. Nor did it arise 
in my mind until more than three decades later. Now that I know more about 
JFK's journey, the question is there: Did a president of the United States, 
while in command of total nuclear war, detach himself enough from its 
power to give his life for peace? 

From researching JFK's story, I know much more today than I did during 
his life about his struggle to find a more hopeful way than the Cold War poli- 
cies that were about to incinerate the United States, the Soviet Union, and 
much of the world. I know now why he became so dangerous to those who 
believed in and profited from those policies. 

But how much of his future was John Kennedy willing to risk? 

Kennedy was not naive. He knew the forces he was up against. Is it even 
conceivable that a man with such power in his hands could have laid it down 

and turned toward an end to the Cold War, in the knowledge he would then 
be, in Merton's phrase, marked out for assassination? 

Let the reader decide. 

I will tell the story as truthfully as I can. I have come to see it as a trans- 
forming story, one that can help move our own collective story in the twenty- 
first century from a spiral of violence to a way of peace. My methodology is 
from Gandhi. This is an experiment in truth. Its particular truth is a journey 
into darkness. If we go as far as we can into the darkness, regardless of the 



consequences, I believe a midnight truth will free us from our bondage to 
violence and bring us to the light of peace. 

Whether or not JFK was a martyr, his story could never have been told 
without the testimony of risk-taking witnesses to the truth. Even if their lives 
were not taken — and some were — they were all martyrs in the root meaning 
of the word, witnesses to the truth. 

The belief behind this book is that truth is the most powerful force on 
earth, what Gandhi called satyagraha, "truth-force" or "soul-force." By his 
experiments in truth Gandhi turned theology on its head, saying "truth is 
God." We all see a part of the truth and can seek it more deeply. Its other side 
is compassion, our response to suffering. 

The story of JFK and the Unspeakable is drawn from the suffering and 
compassion of many witnesses who saw the truth and spoke it. In living out 
the truth, we are liberated from the Unspeakable. 

Chronology 1961-1963 

January 17, 1961: President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers his Farewell 
Address, warning U.S. citizens of the rise in power of "the military-industrial 
complex," the "conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large 
arms industry [that] is new in the American experience . . . We must never 
let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic 

Congo leader Patrice Lumumba is assassinated by the Belgian government 
with the complicity of the CIA in the Congo's secessionist province of 
Katanga, three days before the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy, 
known for his support of African nationalism. 

January 19, 1961: During his last day in the White House, President Eisen- 
hower gives President-elect Kennedy a transitional briefing. When Kennedy 
raises the possibility of the United States supporting a coalition government 
in Laos that would include Communists, Eisenhower says it would be far 
better to intervene militarily with U.S. troops. 

January 20, 1961: President Kennedy delivers his Inaugural Address, bal- 
ancing Cold War statements with the hope "that both sides begin anew the 
quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science 
engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction." 

March 23, 1961: Over the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 
CIA, President Kennedy changes policy on Laos by ending U.S. support of 
anti-communist ruler General Phoumi Nosavan, whose government was 
installed by CIA-Pentagon forces under Eisenhower. At a news conference 
Kennedy says the United States "strongly and unreservedly" supports "the 
goal of a neutral and independent Laos" and wants to join in an interna- 
tional conference on Laos. 

April 15-19, 1961: A Cuban exile brigade, trained and commanded by the 
CIA, invades Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. As the Cuban army led by Premier 



Chronology 1961-1963 

Fidel Castro surrounds the invading force, President Kennedy refuses to send 
in U.S. combat forces. The exile brigade surrenders, and more than one thou- 
sand of its members are taken prisoner. President Kennedy realizes he has 
been drawn into a CIA trap designed to force him to escalate the battle by 
ordering a full-scale invasion of Cuba by U.S. troops. Kennedy says he wants 
"to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." 

June 3-4, 1961: At a summit meeting in Vienna, John Kennedy and Nikita 
Khrushchev agree to support a neutral and independent Laos — the only issue 
they can agree upon. Khrushchev's apparent indifference to the deepening 
threat of nuclear war shocks Kennedy. 

July 20, 1961: At a National Security Council Meeting, the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff and CIA director Allen Dulles present a plan for a preemptive nuclear 
attack on the Soviet Union "in late 1963, preceded by a period of heightened 
tensions." President Kennedy walks out of the meeting, saying to Secretary 
of State Dean Rusk, "And we call ourselves the human race." 

August 30, 1961: The Soviet Union resumes atmospheric testing of ther- 
monuclear weapons, exploding a 150-kiloton hydrogen bomb over Siberia. 

September 5, 1961: After the Soviet testing of two more hydrogen bombs, 
President Kennedy announces he has ordered the resumption of U.S. nuclear 

September 25, 1961: President Kennedy delivers a speech on disarmament at 
the United Nations in which he states: "The weapons of war must be abol- 
ished before they abolish us ... It is therefore our intention to challenge the 
Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race — to advance together 
step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has 
been achieved." 

September 29, 1961: Nikita Khrushchev writes a first confidential letter to 
John Kennedy. He smuggles it to the president in a newspaper brought by a 
Soviet intelligence agent to Kennedy's press secretary Pierre Salinger. In the 
letter Khrushchev compares their common concern for peace in the nuclear 

age "with Noah's Ark where both the 'clean' and the 'unclean' found sanc- 
tuary. But regardless of who lists himself with the 'clean' and who is con- 
sidered to be 'unclean,' they are all equally interested in one thing and that 
is that the Ark should successfully continue its cruise." 

October 16, 1961: Kennedy responds privately to Khrushchev, writing: "I 
like very much your analogy of Noah's Ark, with both the 'clean' and the 

'unclean' determined that it stay afloat. Whatever our differences, our col- 
laboration to keep the peace is as urgent — if not more urgent — than our col- 
laboration to win the last world war." 

Chronology 1961-1963 


October 27-28, 1961: After a summer of U.S.-Soviet tensions over Berlin 
culminating in Khrushchev's August order to erect a wall between East and 
West Berlin, General Lucius Clay, President Kennedy's personal representa- 
tive in West Berlin, provokes a sixteen-hour confrontation between U.S. and 
Soviet tanks at the Berlin Wall. Kennedy sends an urgent, back-channel 
appeal to Khrushchev, who then initiates their mutual withdrawal of the 
tanks, prefiguring the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis one year later. 

November 22, 1961: While refusing the Joint Chiefs' recommendation that 
U.S. combat troops be deployed to defeat an insurgency in Vietnam, Presi- 
dent Kennedy orders the sending of military advisers and support units — the 
beginning of a steady military buildup in Vietnam during his presidency. 

November 30, 1961: President Kennedy authorizes "Operation Mongoose," 
a covert-action program "to help Cuba overthrow the communist regime." 
He appoints counterinsurgency specialist General Edward Lansdale as its 
Chief of Operations. 

April 13, 1962: President Kennedy, backed by overwhelming public support, 
forces the leaders of the steel industry to rescind a price increase that violates 
a Kennedy-brokered agreement to combat inflation. Kennedy's anti-business 
statements and beginning cancellation of the steel companies' defense con- 
tracts make him notorious among the power brokers of the military-indus- 
trial complex. 

April 25, 1962: As authorized by President Kennedy, the United States sets 
off the first of a series of twenty-four nuclear tests in the South Pacific. 

May 8, 1962: Following President Kennedy's instructions, Defense Secretary 
Robert McNamara orders General Paul Harkins at a Saigon conference "to 
devise a plan for turning full responsibility [for the war in Vietnam] over to 
South Vietnam and reducing the size of our military command, and to sub- 
mit this plan at the next conference." 

June 13, 1962: With his Russian wife, Marina, and infant daughter, June, Lee 
Harvey Oswald returns to the United States with a loan from the State 
Department, after his highly publicized October 1959 defection to the Soviet 
Union and two and one-half years living as an expatriate in Minsk. 

As the Oswalds settle in Fort Worth, Texas, Lee Oswald begins to be shep- 
herded by intelligence asset George de Mohrenschildt, at the instigation of 
Dallas CIA agent J. Walton Moore. 

July 23, 1962: The United States joins thirteen other nations at Geneva in 
signing the "Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos." CIA and Pentagon 
opponents regard Kennedy's negotiation of the Laotian agreement as 


Chronology 1961-1963 

surrender to the Communists. They undermine it by supporting General 
Phoumi's violations of the cease-fire. 

In another conference on the war in Vietnam, at Camp Smith, Hawaii, 
Secretary McNamara discovers that his May 8 order to General Harkins has 
been ignored. He repeats President Kennedy's order for a program to phase 
out U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. 

October 16, 1962: President Kennedy is informed that photographs from a 
U-2 reconnaissance flight show Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles in 
Cuba. Kennedy calls a top-secret meeting of his key advisers, who become 
the Executive Committee (ExComm) of the National Security Council. At 
their first meeting, they debate ways of destroying the Soviet missiles by pre- 
emptive attacks on Cuba, prompting Robert Kennedy to write a note to the 
president saying: "I now know how Tojo felt when he was planning Pearl 
Harbor. " 

October 19, 1962: As President Kennedy resolves to blockade further Soviet 
missile shipments rather than bomb and invade Cuba, he meets with his Joint 
Chiefs of Staff. They push for an immediate attack on the missile sites. Gen- 
eral Curtis LeMay tells him, "This [blockade and political action] is almost 
as bad as the appeasement [of Hitler] at Munich." 

October 22, 1962: President Kennedy delivers a televised speech to the 
nation, announcing the U.S. discovery of Soviet missile sites in Cuba. He 
declares "a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under ship- 
ment to Cuba" and calls for "the prompt dismantling and withdrawal of all 
offensive weapons in Cuba." 

October 27, 1962: A Soviet surface-to-air missile shoots down a U-2 recon- 
naissance plane over Cuba, killing the Air Force pilot. The Joint Chiefs and 
ExComm urge a quick retaliatory attack. Kennedy sends a letter accepting 
Khrushchev's proposal to withdraw the Soviet missiles in return for JFK's 
pledge not to invade Cuba, while ignoring Khrushchev's later demand that 
the United States remove its analogous missiles from Turkey beside the Soviet 
border. JFK sends Robert Kennedy to meet with Soviet ambassador Anatoly 
Dobrynin. RFK gives Dobrynin a secret promise that the missiles in Turkey 
will also be withdrawn as part of the agreement. He appeals for a quick 
response by Khrushchev, saying many generals are pushing for war and the 
president may lose control. Upon receipt of this message from Dobrynin, 
Khrushchev announces publicly he is taking the Soviet missiles out of Cuba 
in exchange for Kennedy's no-invasion pledge. 

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are outraged by Kennedy's refusal to attack Cuba 
and his concessions to Khrushchev. 

December 18, 1962: After visiting Vietnam at President Kennedy's request, 
Senator Mike Mansfield issues a report cautioning Kennedy against being 

Chronology 1961-1963 


drawn "inexorably into some variation of the unenviable position in Vietnam 
which was formerly occupied by the French." 

March 19, 1963: At a Washington news conference, the CIA-sponsored 
Cuban exile group Alpha 66 announces its having raided a Soviet "fortress" 
and ship in Cuba, causing a dozen casualties. The secret purpose of the attack 
in Cuban waters, according to Alpha 66's incognito CIA adviser, David Atlee 
Phillips, is "to publicly embarrass Kennedy and force him to move against 

March 31, 1963: President Kennedy orders a crackdown on Cuban refugee 
gunboats being run by the CIA out of Miami. Robert Kennedy's Justice 
Department confines the movement of anti-Castro commando leaders to the 
Miami area, while the Coast Guard seizes their boats and arrests the crews. 

April 11, 1963: Pope John XXIII issues his encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris 
("Peace on Earth"). Norman Cousins presents an advance copy in Russian 
to Nikita Khrushchev. The papal encyclical's principles of mutual trust and 
cooperation with an ideological opponent provide a foundation for the 
Kennedy-Khrushchev dialogue and Kennedy's American University address 
in June. 

President Kennedy writes secretly to Premier Khrushchev that he is "aware 
of the tensions unduly created by recent private attacks on your ships in 
Cuban waters; and we are taking action to halt those attacks which are in 
violation of our laws." 

Also in early April, James Donovan, U.S. negotiator, returns to Cuba to 
confer with Premier Fidel Castro for the further release of Bay of Pigs pris- 
oners. The CIA attempts through an unwitting Donovan to foist a CIA-con- 
taminated diving suit on Castro, as a gift by the Kennedy-appointed 
negotiator, in a failed effort to simultaneously assassinate Castro, scapegoat 
Kennedy, and sabotage a beginning Cuban-American dialogue. 

April 18, 1963: Dr. Jose Miro Cardona, head of the Cuban Revolutionary 
Council in Miami, subsidized by the CIA, resigns in protest against Kennedy's 
shift in Cuban policy. Cardona concludes from Kennedy's actions: "the strug- 
gle for Cuba is in the process of being liquidated by the [U.S.] Government." 

May 6, 1963: In another conference on Vietnam chaired by Secretary McNa- 
mara at Camp Smith, Hawaii, the Pacific Command finally presents Presi- 
dent Kennedy's long-sought plan for withdrawal from Vietnam. However, 
McNamara has to reject the military's overextended time line. He orders that 
concrete plans be drawn up for withdrawing one thousand U.S. military per- 
sonnel from South Vietnam by the end of 1963. 

President Kennedy issues National Security Action Memorandum 239, 
ordering his principal national security advisers to pursue both a nuclear test 
ban treaty and a policy of general and complete disarmament. 


Chronology 1961-1963 

May 8, 1963: At a protest in Hue, South Vietnam, by Buddhists claiming 
religious repression by the Diem government, two explosions attributed to 
government security forces kill eight people, wounding fifteen others. The 
government accuses the Viet Cong of setting off the explosions. A later, inde- 
pendent investigation identifies the bomber as a U.S. military officer, using 
CIA-supplied plastic bombs. The Buddhist Crisis touched off by the Hue 
explosions threatens to topple Ngo Dinh Diem's government, destroying the 
possibility of a Diem-Kennedy agreement for a U.S. military withdrawal 
from Vietnam. 

June 10, 1963: President Kennedy delivers his Commencement Address at 
American University in Washington proposing, in effect, an end to the Cold 
War. Rejecting the goal of "a Pax Americana enforced on the world by Amer- 
ican weapons of war," Kennedy asks Americans to reexamine their attitudes 
toward war, especially in relation to the people of the Soviet Union, who suf- 
fered incomparable losses in World War II. Now nuclear war would be far 
worse: "All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the 
first 24 hours." He announces his unilateral suspension of further nuclear 
tests in the atmosphere, so as to promote "our primary long-range interest," 
"general and complete disarmament." 

June 25, 1963: Lee Harvey Oswald is issued a United States passport in New 
Orleans, twenty-four hours after his application and one year after his return 
from defecting to the Soviet Union. On his passport application, he identi- 
fies his destination as the Soviet Union. 

July 25, 1963: In Moscow, on behalf of President Kennedy, U.S. negotiator 

Averell Harriman agrees with Soviet negotiators to the Limited Test Ban 

Treaty, outlawing nuclear tests "in the atmosphere, beyond its limits, includ- 
ing outer space, or under water, including territorial waters or high seas." 

July 26, 1963: President Kennedy makes a television appeal to the nation 
for support of the test ban treaty, quoting Nikita Khrushchev on a nuclear 
war they both hope to avoid: "The survivors would envy the dead." 

August 9-10, 1963: Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested in New Orleans while 
passing out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets. He and three anti-Castro Cuban 
exiles, who confront him and tear up his leaflets, are charged with disturb- 
ing the peace. After Oswald spends the night in jail, he meets privately with 
New Orleans FBI agent John Quigley. Oswald's street theater discredits the 
Fair Play for Cuba Committee and prepares the ground for his portrayal in 
November as a pro-Castro assassin of President Kennedy. 

August 24, 1963: Presidential advisers Roger Hilsman, Averell Harriman, 
and Michael Forrestal draft a telegram to newly appointed Saigon ambassa- 

Chronology 1961-1963 


dor Henry Cabot Lodge that conditionally authorizes U.S. support of a coup 
by rebel South Vietnamese generals. President Kennedy, who is in Hyannis 
Port, endorses the telegram. He soon regrets the hasty policy decision that 
puts the U.S. government on record in support of a coup. 

September 12, 1963: At a National Security Council meeting, the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff again present a report evaluating a projected nuclear first strike 
against the Soviet Union, in a time scheme of 1964 through 1968. President 
Kennedy turns the discussion to his conclusion: "Preemption is not possible 
for us." He passes over without comment the report's implication that the 
remaining months of 1963 are still the most advantageous time for the 
United States to launch a preemptive strike. 

September 20, 1963: In an address to the United Nations, President Kennedy 
expresses the hope that the Limited Test Ban Treaty can serve as a lever for 
a just and lasting peace. In a meeting with UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson, 

he approves U.S. diplomat William Attwood contacting Dr. Carlos Lechuga, 
Cuba's UN ambassador, to open a secret dialogue with Premier Castro. 

In El Paso, Texas, U.S. counterintelligence agent Richard Case Nagell, 
who has met with Kennedy assassination planners, walks into a bank and 
fires two pistol shots into a plaster wall just below the ceiling. He waits out- 
side to be arrested and tells the FBI, "I would rather be arrested than com- 
mit murder and treason." 

September 23, 1963: At a party arranged as a cover by television newscaster 
Lisa Howard, William Attwood meets Carlos Lechuga. Attwood tells 
Lechuga he is about to travel to the White House to request authorization 
from the president to meet secretly with Premier Castro. The meeting's pur- 
pose would be to discuss the feasibility of a rapprochement between Havana 
and Washington. Lechuga expresses great interest. 

September 24, 1963: In Washington, William Attwood meets with Robert 
Kennedy, who tells Attwood to continue pursuing with Lechuga a secret 
meeting with Castro but to seek a less risky location than Cuba. 

The Senate approves the Limited Test Ban Treaty by a vote of 80 to 19. 

September 27, 1963: Attwood meets Lechuga at the UN Delegates' Lounge, 
saying he is authorized to meet with Castro at a site other than Cuba. 
Lechuga says he will so inform Havana. 

In Mexico City, a man identifying himself as Lee Harvey Oswald visits 
the Cuban and Soviet consulates, displaying leftist credentials and applying 
for immediate visas to both Communist countries. When suspicious employ- 
ees put him off and escort him outside, he flies into a rage, creating memo- 
rable scenes. 


Chronology 1961-1963 

September 28, 1963: The man identifying himself as Oswald returns to the 
Mexico City Soviet Embassy, renewing his request for a quick visa to the 
Soviet Union. When Soviet officials offer him forms to fill out, he becomes 
even more agitated than on the previous day. He places a revolver on the 
table, saying it is necessary for his protection. He is again escorted to the 

This visit to the Soviet Embassy becomes a repeated reference during 
incriminating phone calls by "Oswald," wiretapped and transcribed by the 
CIA, in which the speaker associates himself with a Soviet assassination 
expert working at the embassy. When it is pointed out that the phone caller 
speaks broken Russian, whereas Oswald is fluent in the language, the CIA 
claims the audiotapes are no longer available for voice comparisons because 
they were routinely erased. 

September 30, 1963: President Kennedy reopens a secret channel of com- 
munication between himself and Nikita Khrushchev, via Press Secretary 
Pierre Salinger and a Washington-based Soviet Secret Police agent. He 
thereby circumvents a State Department he can no longer trust for his com- 
munications with the Soviet leader. 

October 11, 1963: President Kennedy issues National Security Action Mem- 
orandum 263, making official government policy the withdrawal from Viet- 
nam of "1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963" and "by the end 
of 1965 . . . the bulk of U.S. personnel." 

October 16, 1963: After a successful job referral by Ruth Paine, Lee Harvey 
Oswald begins work at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. 

October 24, 1963: French journalist Jean Daniel interviews President 
Kennedy, before Daniel's trip to Cuba to interview Premier Castro. Kennedy 
speaks warmly of the Cuban revolution led by Castro, but asks Daniel if 
Castro realizes that "through his fault the world was on the verge of nuclear 
war in October 1962." Kennedy asks Daniel to tell him what Castro says in 
reply, when Daniel returns from Cuba at the end of November. 

October 31, 1963: Fidel Castro's aide Rene Vallejo speaks by phone with 
Lisa Howard. Through Vallejo, Castro offers to expedite the process of meet- 
ing with William Attwood by sending a plane to pick up Attwood in Mex- 
ico. Attwood would be flown to a private airport in Cuba, where he would 
talk confidentially with Castro, then be flown back immediately. Howard 
conveys this to Attwood, who alerts the White House. 

November 1, 1963: Rebel South Vietnamese army units, supported by the 
CIA, encircle and bombard President Diem's presidential palace in Saigon. 
Diem and his brother Nhu flee from the palace in darkness. They take refuge 
in the Saigon suburb of Cholon. 

Chronology 1961-1963 


In Chicago, the Secret Service arrests two members of a four-man sniper 
team suspected of planning to assassinate President Kennedy during his visit 
to Chicago the following day. The other two snipers escape. Thomas Arthur 
Vallee, a mentally damaged ex-Marine working in a building over Kennedy's 
motorcade route, is monitored by the Chicago Police. 

November 2, 1963: From his refuge in Cholon, Diem phones Ambassador 
Lodge and the coup generals. He surrenders, requesting for Nhu and himself 
only safe conduct to the airport and departure from Vietnam. Rebel general 
Minh sends a team of five men to pick up the two men. The armored per- 
sonnel carrier into which Diem and Nhu descend delivers their dead, bullet- 
sprayed bodies to the generals' headquarters. 

At the White House, President Kennedy is handed a telegram from Lodge 
informing him that Diem and Nhu are dead and that the coup leaders claim 
their deaths are suicides. Kennedy rushes from the room with a look of shock 
and dismay on his face. 

Forty minutes later, White House press secretary Pierre Salinger announces 
President Kennedy's trip to Chicago has been cancelled. While the two sus- 
pected snipers are questioned at Chicago Secret Service headquarters, poten- 
tial assassination scapegoat Thomas Arthur Vallee is arrested. The other two 
alleged snipers remain at large in Chicago. Only Vallee is ever identified pub- 

November 5, 1963: William Attwood briefs President Kennedy's National 
Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy on Premier Castro's concrete offer to 
expedite a meeting with Attwood as Kennedy's representative. Bundy then 
updates Kennedy on Castro's proposal. Kennedy says Attwood should sever 
his formal relation with the government as a precaution, so as to meet with 
Castro under the cover of his former work as a journalist. 

November 18, 1963: Rene Vallejo talks by phone with William Attwood, 
while Fidel Castro listens. Attwood says a preliminary meeting is essential to 
identify what he and Castro will discuss. Vallejo says they will send instruc- 
tions to Cuban ambassador Carlos Lechuga to set an agenda with Attwood 
for his meeting with Castro. 

In a speech in Miami, President Kennedy issues a challenge and a prom- 
ise to Premier Castro, saying that if Cuba ceases being "a weapon in an effort 
dictated by external powers to subvert the other American Republics," 
"everything is possible." 

In Washington, the Soviet Embassy receives a crudely typed, badly spelled 
letter dated nine days earlier and signed by "Lee H. Oswald" of Dallas. The 
letter seems to implicate the Soviet Union in conspiring with Oswald in the 
assassination of President Kennedy that will occur four days later. Soviet 
authorities recognize the letter as a forgery or provocation and decide to 
return it to the U.S. government, whose FBI agents had already opened and 
copied the letter on its way into the embassy. 


Chronology 1961-1963 

November 19-20, 1963: Fidel Castro meets for six hours with Jean Daniel 
at his Havana hotel to learn more about a dialogue with Kennedy. After 
Daniel recounts Kennedy's endorsement of the Cuban revolution and his 
accusation that Castro almost caused a nuclear war, Castro explains the rea- 
soning for the introduction of Soviet missiles in Cuba — to deter the imminent 
U.S. invasion that he feared. Reassessing Kennedy, he expresses the hope that 
Kennedy will win reelection and become the United States' greatest presi- 
dent — by recognizing there can be coexistence between capitalists and social- 
ists, even in the Americas. 

November 20, 1963: At Red Bird Air Field in Dallas, a young man and 
woman try to charter a plane for Friday afternoon, November 22, from 
Wayne January, owner of a private airline. From their questions, January 
suspects they may hijack the plane to Cuba. He rejects their offer. The man 
he sees waiting for the couple in their car he recognizes two days later from 
media pictures as Lee Harvey Oswald. 

In Eunice, Louisiana, heroin addict Rose Cheramie tells Louisiana State 
Police lieutenant Francis Fruge that the two men with whom she stopped at 
the Silver Slipper Lounge that night, on a drive from Miami to Dallas, plan 
to kill President Kennedy when he comes to Dallas. 

November 21, 1963: Before leaving on his trip to Texas, President Kennedy, 
after being given a list of the most recent casualties in Vietnam, says to Assis- 
tant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff: "After I come back from Texas, that's 
going to change. Vietnam is not worth another American life." 

November 22, 1963: At 12:30 P.M., with security having been withdrawn 
from the surrounding area and the presidential limousine, President Kennedy 
is driven around a dogleg turn to a virtual stop in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, where 
sniper teams assassinate him by crossfire. 

While Fidel Castro and Jean Daniel are having lunch together in Varadero 
Beach, Cuba, they receive the news of Kennedy's death in Dallas. Castro 
says, "Everything is changed. Everything is going to change." 

When the president's body is brought to Parkland Hospital, Dallas, 
twenty-one witnesses see a massive head wound in the right rear of his skull, 
evidence of a fatal head shot from the front. At a press conference, Dr. Mal- 
colm Perry repeatedly describes an entrance wound in the front of the throat, 
further evidence of shooting from the front. 

Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested in the Texas Theater at 1:50 P.M., follow- 
ing the murder of Dallas Police officer J. D. Tippit at 1:15 by a man whom 
witnesses identify as Oswald. At 1:53 P.M., a man resembling Oswald is also 
arrested in the Texas Theater and taken out a different door. At 3:30 P.M., an 
Oswald double is flown out of Dallas on a CIA C-54 cargo plane. 

During the president's autopsy held at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, 
Maryland, Admiral Calvin Galloway, hospital commander, orders the doc- 

Chronology 1961-1963 


tors not to probe the throat wound. X-rays taken that night show an intact 
rear skull, where a large occipital fragment of the president's skull, which 
will be found the next day in Dealey Plaza, was blown out — proving the X- 
rays are fraudulent, created to disguise a massive exit wound in the rear. 

At 11:55 P.M. on the third floor of Dallas Police headquarters, CIA- 
connected nightclub owner Jack Ruby, whom a witness saw deliver a gun- 
man to the grassy knoll that morning, is given access to the doorway where 
prisoner Lee Harvey Oswald is about to be brought by police to a midnight 
press conference. Ruby (with a revolver in his pocket) fails to shoot Oswald. 

November 24, 1963: At 11:21 A.M., an armed Jack Ruby is again given 
access to the prisoner Lee Harvey Oswald, this time as Oswald is brought 
from the basement to the garage of Dallas Police headquarters while being 
transferred to the Dallas County Jail. Ruby shoots Oswald to death at point 
blank range, as seen on television by millions. 

In mid-afternoon in Washington, President Lyndon Johnson meets with 
Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, back from Vietnam. Johnson tells Lodge, 
"I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the President who 
saw Southeast Asia go the way China went." 


A Cold Warrior Turns 

s Albert Einstein said, with the unleashing of the power of the atom, 
humanity reached a new age. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima marked 
a crossroads: either we would end war or war would end us. In her reflec- 
tions on Hiroshima in the September 1945 issue of the Catholic Worker, 
Dorothy Day wrote: "Mr. Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True 
man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as 
true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was 
jubilant." 1 

President Truman was aboard the cruiser Augusta, returning from the 
Potsdam conference, when he was informed of the United States' incinera- 
tion of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. Truman was exultant. He declared, 
"This is the greatest thing in history!" He went from person to person on the 
ship, officers and crew alike, telling them the great news like a town crier. 
Dorothy Day observed: "'Jubilant' the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We 

have killed 318,000 Japanese." 

Seventeen years later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, another president, 

John F. Kennedy, under enormous pressure, almost committed the United 
States to a nuclear holocaust that would have multiplied the explosive power 
of the Hiroshima bomb thousands of times. Kennedy's saving grace was that 
unlike Truman he recognized the evil of nuclear weapons. Kennedy resisted 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff and most of his civilian advisers, who pressured him 
for a preemptive attack on Soviet missile sites in Cuba. Thanks to the sheer 
grace of God, to Kennedy's resistance to his advisers, and to Nikita 
Khrushchev's willingness to retreat, humanity survived the crisis. 

Kennedy, however, survived it for only a little more than a year. As we 
shall see, because of his continuing turn from nuclear war toward a vision of 

peace in the thirteen months remaining to him, he was executed by the 

powers that be. 


2 JFK and the Unspeakable 

Two critical questions converge at Kennedy's assassination. The first is: 
Why did his assassins risk exposure and a shameful downfall by covertly 
murdering a beloved president? The second is: Why was John Kennedy pre- 
pared to give his life for peace, when he saw death coming? 

The second question may be key to the first, because there is nothing so 
threatening to systemic evil as those willing to stand against it regardless of 
the consequences. So we will try to see this story initially through the life of 
John Kennedy, to understand why he became so threatening to the most pow- 
erful military-economic coalition in history that its wielders of power were 
willing to risk everything they had in order to kill him. 

n assessing the formation of John Kennedy's character, biographers have 
zeroed in on his upbringing as a rich young man in a dysfunctional mar- 
riage. Seen through that lens, Kennedy was a reckless playboy from youth to 
death, under the abiding influence of a domineering, womanizing father and 
an emotionally distant, strictly Catholic mother. These half-truths miss the 
mark. They do not explain the later fact of President Kennedy's steely resist- 
ance to the pressures of a military-intelligence elite focused on waging war. 
Kennedy's life was formed, first of all, by death — the hovering angel of 
death reaching down for his life. He suffered long periods of illness. He saw 
death approach repeatedly — from scarlet fever when he was two and three 
years old, from a succession of childhood and teen illnesses, from a chronic 
blood condition in boarding school, from what doctors thought was a com- 
bination of colitis and ulcers, from intestinal ailments during his years at 
Harvard, from osteoporosis and crippling back problems intensified by war 
injuries that plagued him the rest of his life, from the adrenal insufficiency of 
Addison's disease 2 ... To family and friends, Jack Kennedy always seemed 
to be sick and dying. 

Yet he exuded an ironic joy in life. Both the weaknesses and strengths of 
his character drew on his deeply held belief that death would come soon. 
"The point is," he told a friend during a long talk on death, "that you've got 
to live every day like it's your last day on earth. That's what I'm doing." 3 
From that perspective, he could indeed be reckless, as he was in sexual 
escapades that after his death would become a media focus on his life. He 
could also be courageous to the point of heroism. Death was not to be feared. 
As president, he often joked about his death's approach. The angel of death 
was his companion. By smiling at his own death, he was free to resist oth- 
ers' deaths. 

John Kennedy's World War II experience was characterized by a willing- 
ness to give his life for his friends. Two years before the Hiroshima bomb- 
ing, Kennedy was a PT boat commander in the South Pacific. On the night 
of August 1-2, 1943, he was at the wheel of his PT 109, patrolling Blackett 
Strait in the Solomon Islands, a corridor of water used by Japanese destroy- 
ers. It was a moonless night. A ship suddenly broke through the black, 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


headed for the 109. As a man forward shouted, "Ship at two o'clock!" 
Kennedy spun the wheel. The Japanese destroyer smashed into the 109 and 
cut a giant strip off its starboard side. "This is how it feels to be killed," 
Kennedy thought, while being thrown through the cockpit. There was a ter- 
rific roar, as the gasoline aboard went up in flames. 

The section of the boat Kennedy was on stayed afloat. He discovered four 
of his twelve crewmembers still on it. Two others were never seen or heard 
from again. Six more were scattered in the water but alive. Kennedy, who had 
been on the Harvard swimming team, swam through the dark to shouts, 
finding his badly burned engineer, McMahon. He coaxed and cajoled others 
not to give up, then towed McMahon a hundred yards back to the floating 
hulk identified by a crew member's blinking light. All the survivors in the 
water reached the tilted deck and collapsed on it. They wondered how long 
it would take for them to be rescued by PTs from their base on Rendova 
Island, forty miles away. 

When daylight and noon came with no rescue, the group abandoned the 
sinking hulk. They swam to a small, deserted island, in the midst of larger 
islands with Japanese soldiers. Nine of the crew held onto a two-by-six tim- 
ber and kicked and paddled their way to the island. Kennedy again towed 
McMahon, holding a strap from McMahon's life preserver in his teeth. 

Kennedy would swim in ten-minute spurts, then pause to rest and check 
on McMahon. A chronicler of this episode described it from McMahon's 
point of view: 

"Being a sensitive person, McMahon would have found the swim unbear- 
able if he had realized that Kennedy was hauling him through three miles or 
so of water with a bad back. He was miserable enough without knowing it. 
Floating on his back with his burned hands trailing at his sides, McMahon 
could see little but the sky and the flattened cone of [the volcanic island] 
Kolombangara. He could not see the other men, though while all of them 
were still together, he could hear them puffing and splashing. He could not 

see Kennedy but he could feel the tugs forward with each stretch of 
Kennedy's shoulder muscles and could hear his labored breathing. 

"McMahon tried kicking now and then but he was extremely weary. The 

swim seemed endless, and he doubted that it would lead to salvation. He 
was hungry and thirsty and fearful that they would be attacked by sharks. 
The awareness that he could do nothing to save himself from the currents, 
the sharks or the enemy oppressed him. His fate, he well knew, was at the end 
of a strap in Kennedy's teeth." 4 

With Kennedy and McMahon leading the way, it took the eleven men 
four hours to reach the little island. They staggered up the beach and ducked 
under trees, barely avoiding a Japanese barge that chugged by and failed to 
see them. 

When early evening came with no sign of help, Kennedy told the crew he 
would swim from the island out into Ferguson Passage, a mile and a half 
away, where the PT boats usually patrolled after dark. He took the 109's 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

lantern, wrapped in a life jacket, to signal the boats. Kennedy swam for half 
an hour, forded a reef, then swam for another hour, reaching his intended 
point of interception. He treaded water, waiting in the darkness. After a 
while, he saw the flares of an action beyond the island of Gizo, ten miles 
away. The PT boats had taken a different route. 

Kennedy tried to swim back to his men. He was very tired. The swift cur- 
rent carried him past the island, toward open water. 

New Yorker writer John Hersey interviewed PT 1 09 crewmembers and 
wrote their story of survival. He described Kennedy's hours of drifting 
toward almost certain death: "He thought he had never known such deep 
trouble, but something he did shows that unconsciously he had not given up 
hope. He dropped his shoes, but he held onto the heavy lantern, his symbol 
of contact with his fellows. He stopped trying to swim. He seemed to stop 
caring. His body drifted through the wet hours, and he was very cold. His 
mind was a jumble. A few hours before he had wanted desperately to get to 
the base at Rendova. Now he only wanted to get back to the little island he 
had left that night, but he didn't try to get there; he just wanted to. His mind 
seemed to float away from his body. Darkness and time took the place of a 
mind in his skull. For a long time he slept, or was crazy, or floated in a chill 

"The currents of the Solomon Islands are queer. The tide shoves and sucks 
through the islands and makes the currents curl in odd patterns. It was a 
fateful pattern into which Jack Kennedy drifted. He drifted in it all night. 
His mind was blank, but his fist was tightly clenched on the kapok around 
the lantern. The current moved in a huge circle — west past Gizo, then north 
and east past Kolombangara, then south into Ferguson Passage. Early in the 
morning the sky turned from black to gray, and so did Kennedy's mind. Light 
came to both at about six. Kennedy looked around and saw that he was 
exactly where he had been the night before when he saw the flares beyond 
Gizo. " 5 

Kennedy swam back to the island, stumbled up on the beach, and col- 
lapsed in the arms of his crew. He said later of the experience, "I never prayed 
so much in my life." 6 

As is well known from the story of PT 1 09, eventually Melanesian natives 
came to the aid of the eleven Americans. The natives carried Kennedy's SOS 
message, scratched on a coconut shell, to an Australian Navy coastwatcher, 
Reg Evans, who was working behind enemy lines. Evans radioed the U.S. 
Navy for assistance. 

In the meantime, Kennedy and fellow officer Barney Ross, not realizing the 
nearness of their rescue, almost died in another failed effort to signal PTs at 
night in Ferguson Passage. They found a dugout canoe, and paddled it into 
high waves in the darkness. The canoe was swamped. The waves threw the 
two men against a reef, but they again survived. 

Kennedy's crew never forgot his commitment to their lives. They reunited 
with him periodically after the war. What Kennedy took first from his war 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


experience was a heightened sense of the precious value of his friends' lives. 
Among the wartime deaths he mourned besides the PT boat casualties were 
those of his brother Joe Kennedy, Jr., and brother-in-law Billy Hartington. He 
knew many others who died. He reflected, too, on the repeated nearness of 
his own death. As we have seen, since childhood chronically poor health had 
brought him near death many times. Illness, pain, and the process of almost 
dying came as a lifelong discipline. 

After JFK's assassination, Robert Kennedy wrote of his brother: "At least 
one half of the days that he spent on this earth were days of intense physical 
pain. He had scarlet fever when he was very young, and serious back trou- 
ble when he was older. In between he had almost every other conceivable 
ailment. When we were growing up together we used to laugh about the 
great risk a mosquito took in biting Jack Kennedy — with some of his blood 
the mosquito was almost sure to die. He was in Chelsea Naval Hospital for 
an extended period of time after the war, had a major and painful operation 
on his back in 1955, campaigned on crutches in 1958. In 1951 on a trip we 
took around the world he became ill. We flew to the military hospital in Oki- 
nawa and he had a temperature of over 106 degrees. They didn't think he 
would live. 

"But during all this time, I never heard him complain. I never heard him 

say anything that would indicate that he felt God had dealt with him unjustly. 
Those who knew him well would know he was suffering only because his 
face was a little whiter, the lines around his eyes were a little deeper, his 
words a little sharper. Those who did not know him well detected nothing." 7 

After the PT109 crew's rescue, Kennedy wondered at the purpose of a life 
that had been spared again, this time through the circular pattern of deep- 
running currents and the compassion of Melanesian natives. 8 

Preventing another war became John Kennedy's main motivation for 
entering politics after the Second World War. When he announced his can- 
didacy for Congress on April 22, 1946, in Boston, Kennedy sounded more 
like he was running for president on a peace ticket than for a first term as a 
Democratic member of Congress from Massachusetts: "What we do now 
will shape the history of civilization for many years to come. We have a 
weary world trying to bind the wounds of a fierce struggle. That is dire 
enough. What is infinitely far worse is that we have a world which has 
unleashed the terrible powers of atomic energy. We have a world capable of 
destroying itself. The days which lie ahead are most difficult ones. Above all, 
day and night, with every ounce of ingenuity and industry we possess, we 
must work for peace. We must not have another war." 9 

Where had this twenty-eight-year-old candidate for Congress forged such 
a vision of peace in the nuclear age? 

After his bad back and colitis had forced his discharge from the Navy, 
Kennedy had attended the San Francisco conference that founded the United 
Nations in April-May 1945, as a journalist for the Hearst press. He later 
told friends it was his experience at the UN meeting and at the Potsdam con- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

ference in July that made him realize that the political arena, "whether you 
really liked it or not, was the place where you personally could do the most 
to prevent another war." 10 

However, what he witnessed in San Francisco, even before the war was 
over, was an intense conflict between wartime allies. On April 30 he warned 
his readers that "this week at San Francisco" would be "the real test of 
whether the Russians and the Americans can get along." 11 

The power struggle he saw at the UN moved Kennedy to write to a PT 
boat friend: "When I think of how much this war has cost us, of the deaths 
of Cy and Peter and Orv and Gil and Demi and Joe and Billy and all of those 
thousands and millions who have died with them — when I think of all those 
gallant acts that I have seen or anyone has seen who has been to the war 
it would be a very easy thing to feel disappointed and somewhat betrayed . . . 
You have seen battlefields where sacrifice was the order of the day and to 
compare that sacrifice to the timidity and selfishness of the nations gathered 
at San Francisco must inevitably be disillusioning." 12 

In a notebook, Kennedy identified an ultimate solution to the problem of 
war and the difficulty in realizing it: "Admittedly world organization with 
common obedience to law would be solution. Not that easy. If there is not 
the feeling that war is the ultimate evil, a feeling strong enough to drive them 
together, then you can't work out this internationalist plan." 13 

"Things cannot be forced from the top," the future president wrote his PT 
boat friend. He then expressed a prophetic, long-range view: "The interna- 
tional relinquishing of sovereignty would have to spring from the people 
it would have to be so strong that the elected delegates would be turned out 
of office if they failed to do it . . . War will exist until that distant day when 
the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the 
warrior does today." 14 

Kennedy had reason to refer again to that distant day of the conscientious 
objector while he was traveling through postwar Europe in the summer of 
1945. On July 1 in London, he had dinner with William Douglas-Home, a 
former captain in the British army who had been sentenced to a year in jail 
for refusing an order to fire on civilians. Douglas-Home became his lifelong 
friend. Kennedy observed in his diary, "prowess in war is still deeply 
respected. The day of the conscientious objector is not yet at hand." 15 

In the same diary, he anticipated the impact of world-destructive weapons. 
In the entry dated July 10, 1945, six days before the first atomic test in Alam- 
ogordo, New Mexico, Kennedy envisioned such a terrible weapon and spec- 
ulated on its meaning in relation to Russia: "The clash [with Russia] may be 
finally and indefinitely postponed by the eventual discovery of a weapon so 
horrible that it will truthfully mean the abolishment of all the nations 
employing it." 16 

During his legislative career in the House and Senate, John Kennedy's aspi- 
rations to be a post-World War II peacemaker were submerged beneath the 
seas of the Cold War. His more bellicose views in the fifties reflected the book 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


he had written in 1940, Why England Slept, an expansion of his Harvard 
senior thesis. Kennedy's book found Britain too slow in rearming to resist 
Nazi Germany. He applied the lesson uncritically to United States-Soviet 
policies. As a freshman senator in June 1954, he led a Democratic effort to 
add $350 million to the defense budget to restore two Army divisions that 
President Eisenhower had cut and thus guarantee "a clear margin of victory 
over our enemies." 17 Kennedy was challenging Secretary of State John Fos- 
ter Dulles in his reliance on the massive threat of nuclear weapons. Kennedy's 
amendment failed, but his commitment to a "flexible" Cold War strategy 
emphasizing conventional forces and "smaller" nuclear weapons would be 
carried over into his presidency. It was an illusory policy supported by 
Democrats that could easily have led to the same global destruction threat- 
ened by the Dulles doctrine. 

In 1958, Senator John Kennedy delivered a major speech attacking the 
Eisenhower administration for allowing a "missile gap" to open up between 
allegedly superior Soviet forces and those of the United States. Kennedy 
repeated the charge of a missile gap in his successful 1960 presidential cam- 
paign, developing it into an argument for increased military spending. When 
he became president, his science adviser, Jerome Wiesner, informed him in 
February 1961 that "the missile gap was a fiction" — to which Kennedy 
replied with a single expletive, "delivered," Wiesner said, "more in anger 
than in relief." 18 The United States in fact held an overwhelming strategic 
advantage over the Soviets' missile force. 19 Whether or not Kennedy already 
suspected the truth, he had taken a Cold War myth, had campaigned on it, 
and now partly on its basis, was engaged in a dangerous military buildup as 
president. Marcus Raskin, an early Kennedy administration analyst who left 
his access to power to become its critic, summarized the ominous direction 

in which the new president was headed: "The United States intended under 
Kennedy to develop a war-fighting capability on all levels of violence from 
thermonuclear war to counterinsurgency." 20 

Yet, as we shall see, Raskin also observed a significant change in Kennedy 
after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a development of more positive instincts in the 
president that were already in evidence. Even in his years espousing Cold 
War principles of defense, Senator Kennedy had occasionally broken ranks 
with the West on its colonial wars, particularly in Indochina and Algeria. 

Speaking in the Senate on April 6, 1954, Kennedy critiqued predictions of a 
U.S. -sponsored French victory in Vietnam over Ho Chi Minh's revolutionary 

forces. "No amount of American military assistance in Indochina," Kennedy 
warned in words he would be forced to recall as president, "can conquer an 
enemy which is everywhere and at the same time nowhere, 'an enemy of the 
people' which has the sympathy and covert support of the people." 21 In an 
exchange with Senator Everett Dirksen, Kennedy said he envisioned two 
peace treaties for Vietnam, "one granting the Vietnamese people complete 
independence," the other "a tie binding them to the French Union on the 
basis of full equality." 22 

8 JFK and the Unspeakable 

In 1957 Kennedy came out in support of Algerian independence. That 
spring he talked with Algerians who were seeking a hearing at the United 
Nations for their national liberation movement. In July 1957, he gave a 
major Senate speech in their support, saying, "No amount of mutual polite- 
ness, wishful thinking, nostalgia, or regret should blind either France or the 
United States to the fact that, if France and the West at large are to have a 
continuing influence in North Africa . . . the essential first step is the inde- 
pendence of Algeria." 23 The speech created a furor. Kennedy was widely 
attacked for imperiling the unity of NATO. His biographer, Arthur M. 
Schlesinger, Jr., wrote of the episode, "Even Democrats drew back. Dean 
Acheson attacked him scornfully. Adlai Stevenson thought he had gone too 
far. For the next year or two, respectable people cited Kennedy's Algerian 
speech as evidence of his irresponsibility in foreign affairs." 24 However, in 
Europe the speech provoked positive attention, and in Africa excitement. 

When Kennedy then became chair of the African Subcommittee, he told 
the Senate in 1959: "Call it nationalism, call it anti-colonialism, call it what 
you will, Africa is going through a revolution . . . The word is out — and 
spreading like wildfire in nearly a thousand languages and dialects — that it 
is no longer necessary to remain forever poor or in bondage." He therefore 
advocated "sympathy with the independence movement, programs of eco- 
nomic and educational assistance and, as the goal of American policy, 'a 
strong Africa.'" 25 Historians have scarcely noticed JFK's continuing support 
for a free Africa during his 1960 presidential campaign and in the presidency 
itself, documented in Richard D. Mahoney's comprehensive study JFK: 
Ordeal in Africa. 16 

Equally overlooked, and in tension with his campaign claim of a missile 
gap, was Kennedy's renewal of his purpose in entering politics: the attain- 
ment of peace in the nuclear age. As the 1960 primaries increased his presi- 
dential prospects, Kennedy told a journalist visiting his Senate office that the 
most valuable resource he could bring to the presidency, based on personal 
experience, was his horror of war. Kennedy said he "had read the books of 
great military strategists — Carl Von Clausewitz, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and 
Basil Henry Liddell Hart — and he wondered if their theories of total vio- 
lence made sense in the nuclear age. He expressed his contempt for the old 
military minds, exempting the U.S.'s big three, George Marshall, Douglas 
MacArthur, and Dwight Eisenhower . . . War with all of its modern horror 

would be his biggest concern if he got to the White House, Kennedy said." 27 
The journalist who had listened to Senator Kennedy's 1960 reflections on 
war, Hugh Sidey, wrote thirty-five years later in a retrospective essay: "If I 
had to single out one element in Kennedy's life that more than anything else 
influenced his later leadership it would be a horror of war, a total revulsion 
over the terrible toll that modern war had taken on individuals, nations, and 
societies, and the even worse prospects in the nuclear age as noted earlier. It 
ran even deeper than his considerable public rhetoric on the issue." 28 

In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, John Kennedy's Cold War 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


convictions were interlaced with statements of hope for people around the 
world who were unaccustomed to having a U.S. president address their con- 
cerns. He both inspired and warned them. For example, emerging nonaligned 
leaders, some of whom received Kennedy's support in the Senate, heard this 

"To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we 
pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed 
away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always 
expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find 
them strongly supporting their own freedom — and to remember that, in the 
past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended 
up inside." 29 

The new president's tiger parable could cut in opposite directions. What 
to an American audience was a cunning communist tiger was to nonaligned 
listeners at least as likely to have capitalist as communist stripes. That would 
prove to be the case in Kennedy's presidency by his support of U.S. counter- 
insurgent warfare in South Vietnam, where a client government would then 
wind up inside the U.S. tiger it had been riding. 

One of Kennedy's worst decisions as president would be to develop the 
role of counterinsurgent warfare by enlarging the U.S. Army's Special Forces, 
then re-baptizing them as the Green Berets. Kennedy promoted the Green 
Berets as a response to communist guerrillas, failing to recognize that counter- 
insurgent warfare would turn into a form of terrorism. The idea that the 
United States could deploy Green Beret forces in client states "to win the 
hearts and minds of the people" was a contradiction that would become a 
negative part of Kennedy's legacy. 

In his inaugural address, the new president recognized no such conflict. He 
combined his pledge to the world's poor with a disclaimer of Cold War 
motives: "To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling 
to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them 
help themselves, for whatever period is required — not because the communists 
may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. " 

At the heart of his inaugural, Kennedy turned to the enemy and his own 
deepest preoccupation, peace: "Finally, to those nations who would make 
themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides 
begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction 
unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self- 

Again there was the warning: "We dare not tempt them with weakness. 
For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain 
beyond doubt that they will never be employed." 

And the hope: "Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of 
belaboring those problems which divide us . . . 

"Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of 
Isaiah — to 'undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free.'"" 

10 JFK and the Unspeakable 

What is noteworthy about John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address is that it 
reflects accurately the profound tensions of his political philosophy. In the 
nuclear age, how were his experience of the horror of war and his commit- 
ment to peacemaking to be reconciled with his passionate resistance to a 
totalitarian enemy? From the lives he had seen lost in World War II, Kennedy 
had envisioned in 1945 "the day of the conscientious objector," with an 
international relinquishing of sovereignty and the abolition of war by pop- 
ular demand. However, as he took his oath of office, no such day was at 
hand. Moreover, John Kennedy remained a Cold Warrior in his under- 
standing of the means needed to resist tyranny — armaments that had now 
gone beyond all measure of destruction. For the sake of both peace and free- 
dom, he therefore had no way out except to negotiate a just peace with the 
enemy, within the context of the most dangerous political conflict in world 
history. He would learn just how dangerous it was, from his own side of that 
conflict, to push through such negotiations. 

s the reader knows from the introduction to this book, my perspective on 
the assassination of President Kennedy comes from the writings of the 
Trappist monk Thomas Merton, perhaps an unlikely source. The two men's 
personal histories were worlds apart. While John Kennedy in 1943 was being 
carried by the movements of a Pacific current, Thomas Merton was a novice 
monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in the hills of Kentucky. Yet one can dis- 
cern a providential hand saving each of their lives for a further purpose. As 

readers of Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, know, the 
ex-Cambridge and Columbia University man-about-campus came to Geth- 
semani on currents as unpredictably merciful as those that brought John 
Kennedy around to his dawn awakening in Blackett Strait and through a 
series of life-threatening illnesses. What Kennedy half-dreamed that night in 
the Pacific in relation to the little island his men were on could be said also 
of Merton's spiritual journey to Gethsemani. He didn't try to get there. He 
just wanted to, in a heartfelt prayer that had no fixed attachment to its goal. 
Merton arriving at Gethsemani was like Kennedy stumbling up on the beach 
and collapsing in the arms of his crew. 

In the early sixties, Thomas Merton began responding to the imminent 
threat of an inconceivable evil, total nuclear war. His writings on the nuclear 
crisis, which drew him into what he called "the Unspeakable," are an illu- 
minating context in which to view the presidential struggles and Cold War 
murder of John F. Kennedy. As Merton wrote impassioned articles protest- 
ing the nuclear buildup, he became a controversial figure. His alarmed 
monastic superiors ordered him to stop publishing on peace. Merton was 
obedient, yet deeply determined to keep articulating a gospel truth, if not in 
a forbidden format. Even before he experienced the inevitable crackdown 
on his published work, he had already found another way to follow his con- 
science — by writing a voluminous series of letters on peace. 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


For a year at the center of the Kennedy presidency, from October 1961 
(shortly after the Berlin crisis) to October 1962 (just after the Cuban Missile 
Crisis), Merton wrote letters on war and peace to a wide circle of corre- 
spondents. They included psychologists Erich Fromm and Karl Stern, poet 
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Archbishop Thomas Roberts, Ethel Kennedy, Dorothy 
Day, Clare Boothe Luce, nuclear physicist Leo Szilard, novelist Henry Miller, 
Shinzo Hamai, the mayor of Hiroshima, and Evora Area de Sardinia, the 
wife of a Cuban exile leader in the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion. Mer- 
ton collected over a hundred of these letters, had them mimeographed and 
bound, and sent them out to friends in January 1963. He called this infor- 
mal volume of reflections "The Cold War Letters." 

In his preface to the letters, Merton identified the forces in the United 
States that threatened a nuclear holocaust: "In actual fact it would seem that 
during the Cold War, if not during World War II, this country has become 

frankly a warfare state built on affluence, a power structure in which the 
interests of big business, the obsessions of the military, and the phobias of 
political extremists both dominate and dictate our national policy. It also 
seems that the people of the country are by and large reduced to passivity, 
confusion, resentment, frustration, thoughtlessness and ignorance, so that 
they blindly follow any line that is unraveled for them by the mass media." 30 

Merton wrote that the protest in his letters was not only against the dan- 
ger or horror of war. It was "not merely against physical destruction, still less 
against physical danger, but against a suicidal moral evil and a total lack of 
ethics and rationality with which international policies tend to be conducted. 
True," he added, "President Kennedy is a shrewd and sometimes adventur- 
ous leader. He means well and has the highest motives, and he is, without 
doubt, in a position sometimes so impossible as to be absurd." 31 

As we follow "a shrewd and sometimes adventurous leader" on his jour- 
ney into a deeper darkness than he ever faced in the Pacific, the letters of an 
observer in a Kentucky monastery will serve as a commentary on a time that 
placed John Kennedy "in a position sometimes so impossible as to be absurd." 

Merton did not always feel such sympathy for President Kennedy. In a 
critical, prophetic letter a year earlier to his friend W. H. Ferry, he wrote: "I 
have little confidence in Kennedy, I think he cannot fully measure up to the 
magnitude of his task, and lacks creative imagination and the deeper kind of 
sensitivity that is needed. Too much the Time and Life mentality, than which 
I can imagine nothing further, in reality, from, say, Lincoln. What is needed 

is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don't have: depth, 
humanity and a certain totality of self forgetfulness and compassion, not just 
for individuals but for man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe," 
Merton speculates in an inspired insight, "Kennedy will break through into 
that someday by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for 
assassination." 32 

Thomas Merton 's sense of what Kennedy needed to break through to, 
and the likely consequences if he did so, call to mind a scene early in 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Kennedy's presidency. He had just met with Soviet premier Nikita 
Khrushchev in Vienna. Late at night on the June 5, 1961, flight back to 
Washington, the weary president asked his secretary Evelyn Lincoln if she 

would please file the documents he had been working on. As she started to 

clear the table, Lincoln noticed a little slip of paper that had fallen on the 

floor. On it were two lines in Kennedy's handwriting, a favorite saying of his 
from Abraham Lincoln: 

"I know there is a God — and I see a storm coming; 

If he has a place for me, I believe that I am ready." 33 

The summit meeting with Khrushchev had deeply disturbed Kennedy. The 
revelation of a storm coming had occurred at the end of the meeting, as the 
two men faced each other across a table. Kennedy's gift to Khrushchev, a 
model of the USS Constitution, lay between them. Kennedy pointed out that 
the ship's cannons had been able to fire half a mile and kill a few people. But 
if he and Khrushchev failed to negotiate peace, the two of them could kill sev- 
enty million people in the opening exchange of a nuclear war. Kennedy 
looked at Khrushchev. Khrushchev gave him a blank stare, as if to say, "So 
what?" Kennedy was shocked at what he felt was his counterpart's lack of 
response. "There was no area of accommodation with him," he said later. 34 
Khrushchev may have felt the same way about Kennedy. The result of their 
unsuccessful meeting would be an ever more threatening conflict. As Evelyn 
Lincoln thought when she read what the president had written, "'I see a 
storm coming' was no idle phrase." 35 

While reflecting that night on such a storm, John Kennedy echoing Lin- 
coln had written first to himself, "I know there is a God." Thomas Merton 

in his initial sense of Kennedy had doubted if JFK, by falling short of Lin- 
coln's character, was capable of weathering a storm. Kennedy, continuing 

Lincoln's saying, prayed and hoped that he was: "If [God] has a place for me, 

I believe that I am ready." 

Merton saw that if Kennedy became what he needed to be, he would be 
"marked out for assassination." How clearly did Kennedy see the dangers to 
himself of meeting the coming storm as faithfully as he hoped to? 

The president's friend Paul Fay, Jr., told of an incident that showed JFK 
was keenly conscious of the peril of a military coup d'etat. One summer week- 
end in 1962 while out sailing with friends, Kennedy was asked what he 
thought of Seven Days in May, a best-selling novel that described a military 
takeover in the United States. JFK said he would read the book. He did so that 
night. The next day Kennedy discussed with his friends the possibility of their 
seeing such a coup in the United States. Consider that he said these words 
after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and before the Cuban Missile Crisis: 

"It's possible. It could happen in this country, but the conditions would 
have to be just right. If, for example, the country had a young President, and 
he had a Bay of Pigs, there would be a certain uneasiness. Maybe the mili- 
tary would do a little criticizing behind his back, but this would be written 
off as the usual military dissatisfaction with civilian control. Then if there 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


were another Bay of Pigs, the reaction of the country would be, 'Is he too 
young and inexperienced?' The military would almost feel that it was their 
patriotic obligation to stand ready to preserve the integrity of the nation, 
and only God knows just what segment of democracy they would be defend- 
ing if they overthrew the elected establishment. " 

Pausing a moment, he went on, "Then, if there were a third Bay of Pigs, 
it could happen." Waiting again until his listeners absorbed his meaning, he 
concluded with an old Navy phrase, "But it won't happen on my watch." 36 

On another occasion Kennedy said of the novel's plot about a few mili- 
tary commanders taking over the country, "I know a couple who might wish 
they could. " 37 The statement is cited by biographer Theodore Sorensen as a 
joke. However, John Kennedy used humor in pointed ways, and Sorensen's 
preceding sentence is not a joke: "Communications between the Chiefs of 
Staff and their Commander in Chief remained unsatisfactory for a large part 
of his term." 38 

Director John Frankenheimer was encouraged by President Kennedy to 
film Seven Days in May "as a warning to the republic." 39 Frankenheimer 
said, "The Pentagon didn't want it done. Kennedy said that when we wanted 
to shoot at the White House he would conveniently go to Hyannis Port that 
weekend." 40 

s we know, the young president John Kennedy did have a Bay of Pigs. It 
was a covert project initiated by his predecessor, President Dwight D. 
Eisenhower. 41 By late summer 1960, when Kennedy became the Democratic 
nominee for president, the CIA had already begun training fifteen hundred 
Cuban exile troops at a secret base in Guatemala for an invasion of Cuba. 42 
As the new president in March 1961, Kennedy rejected the CIA's current 
Trinidad Plan for "an amphibious/airborne assault" on Cuba, favoring a 
quiet landing at night in which there would be "no basis for American mil- 
itary intervention." 43 When a skeptical Kennedy finally approved the CIA's 
revised plan for the Bay of Pigs landing in April, he reemphasized that he 
would not intervene by introducing U.S. troops, even if the exile brigade 
faced defeat on the beachhead. The CIA's covert-action chief, Richard Bissell, 
reassured him there would be only a minimum need for air strikes and that 
Cubans on the island would join the brigade in a successful revolt against 
Castro. 44 

At dawn on April 15, 1961, eight B-26 bombers of the Cuban Expedi- 
tionary Force carried out air strikes to destroy the Cuban Air Force on the 
ground, achieving only partial success. Premier Castro then ordered his pilots 
"to sleep under the wings of the planes," ready to take off immediately. 45 
The next night, as the exile brigade prepared for its overnight landing at the 
Bay of Pigs, Kennedy's National Security Adviser, McGeorge Bundy, phoned 
CIA deputy director General Charles P. Cabell to say that "the dawn air 
strikes the following morning should not be launched until planes can con- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

duct them from a strip within the beachhead." 46 Since no such opportunity 
came, this order in effect canceled the air strikes. Castro's army surrounded 
the invading force in the following days. The exile brigade surrendered on 
April 19, 1961. More than one thousand members were taken prisoner. 47 

The new president had bitterly disappointed the CIA and the military by 
his decision to accept defeat at the Bay of Pigs rather than escalate the bat- 
tle. Kennedy realized after the fact that he had been drawn into a CIA 
scenario that was a trap. Its authors assumed he would be forced by cir- 
cumstances to drop his advance restrictions against the use of U.S. combat 

How else, he asked his friends Dave Powers and Ken O'Donnell, could the 
Joint Chiefs have approved such a plan? "They were sure I'd give in to them 
and send the go-ahead order to the [Navy's aircraft carrier] Essex," he said. 
"They couldn't believe that a new President like me wouldn't panic and try 
to save his own face. Well, they had me figured all wrong. " 48 

The major players in deceiving Kennedy were his CIA advisers, especially 
Director Allen Dulles. As Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., observed, "the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff had only approved the Bay of Pigs. The CIA had invented it." 49 

At his death Allen Dulles left the unpublished drafts of an article that 
scholar Lucien S. Vandenbroucke has titled "The 'Confessions' of Allen 
Dulles." In these handwritten, coffee-stained notes, Dulles explained how 
CIA advisers who knew better drew John Kennedy into a plan whose pre- 
requisites for success contradicted the president's own rules for engagement 
that precluded any combat action by U.S. military forces. Although Dulles 
and his associates knew this condition conflicted with the plan they were 
foisting on Kennedy, they discreetly kept silent in the belief, Dulles wrote, 
that "the realities of the situation" would force the president to carry through 
to the end they wished: 

"[We] did not want to raise these issues — in an [undecipherable word] 
discussion — which might only harden the decision against the type of action 
we required. We felt that when the chips were down — when the crisis arose 
in reality, any action required for success would be authorized rather than 
permit the enterprise to fail." 50 But again, as Kennedy said, "They had me fig- 
ured all wrong." 

Four decades after the Bay of Pigs, we have learned that the CIA scenario 
to trap Kennedy was more concrete than Dulles admitted in his handwritten 
notes. A conference on the Bay of Pigs was held in Cuba March 23-25, 2001, 
which included "ex-CIA operatives, retired military commanders, scholars, 
and journalists." 51 News analyst Daniel Schorr reported on National Public 
Radio that "from the many hours of talk and the heaps of declassified secret 
documents" he had gained one new perception of the Bay of Pigs: 

"It was that the CIA overlords of the invasion, director Allen Dulles and 
deputy Richard Bissell, had their own plan of how to bring the United States 
into the conflict. It appears that they never really expected an uprising against 
Castro when the liberators landed as described in their memos to the White 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


House. What they did expect was that the invaders would establish and 
secure a beachhead, announce the creation of a counterrevolutionary gov- 
ernment and appeal for aid from the United States and the Organization of 
American States. The assumption was that President Kennedy, who had 
emphatically banned direct American involvement, would be forced by pub- 
lic opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots. American forces, 
probably Marines, would come in to expand the beachhead. 

"In effect, President Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation 
that collapsed when the invasion collapsed." 52 

Even if President Kennedy had said no at the eleventh hour to the whole 
Bay of Pigs idea (as he was contemplating doing), the CIA, as it turned out, 
had a plan to supersede his decision. When the four anti-Castro brigade lead- 
ers told their story to writer Haynes Johnson, they revealed how the Agency 
was prepared to circumvent a presidential veto. The Cubans' chief CIA mil- 
itary adviser, whom they knew only as "Frank," told them what to do if he 
secretly informed them that the entire project had been blocked by the admin- 
istration: "If this happens you come here and make some kind of show, as if 
you were putting us, the advisers, in prison, and you go ahead with the pro- 
gram as we have talked about it, and we will give you the whole plan, even 
if we are your prisoners." 53 

The brigade leaders said "Frank" was quite specific in his instructions to 
them for "capturing" their CIA advisers if the administration should attempt 
to stop the plan: "they were to place an armed Brigade soldier at each Amer- 
ican's door, cut communications with the outside, and continue the training 
until he told them when, and how, to leave for Trampoline base [their assem- 
bly point in Nicaragua]." 54 When Robert Kennedy learned of this contin- 
gency plan to override the president, he called it "virtually treason." 55 

John Kennedy reacted to the CIA's plotting with a vehemence that went 
unreported until after his death and has been little noted since then. In a 
1966 New York Times feature article on the CIA, this statement by JFK 
appeared without further comment: "President Kennedy, as the enormity of 
the Bay of Pigs disaster came home to him, said to one of the highest officials 
of his Administration that he wanted 'to splinter the C.I.A. in a thousand 

pieces and scatter it to the winds.'" 56 

Presidential adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., said the president told him, 

while the Bay of Pigs battle was still going on, "It's a hell of a way to learn 
things, but I have learned one thing from this business — that is, that we will 
have to deal with CIA ... no one has dealt with CIA." 57 

In his short presidency, Kennedy began to take steps to deal with the CIA. 
He tried to redefine the CIA's mandate and to reduce its power in his 
National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs) 55 and 57, which took 
military-type operations out of the hands of the CIA. Kennedy's NSAM 55 
informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it was they (not the CIA) who were 
his principal military advisers in peacetime as well as wartime. Air Force 
Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, who at the time was in charge of providing mil- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

itary support for the CIA's clandestine operations, described the impact of 
NSAM 55 addressed to General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint 

"I can't overemphasize the shock — not simply the words — that procedure 
caused in Washington: to the Secretary of State, to the Secretary of Defense, 
and particularly to the Director of Central Intelligence. Because Allen Dulles, 
who was still the Director, had just lived through the shambles of the Bay of 
Pigs and now he finds out that what Kennedy does as a result of all this is to 
say that, 'y° u ? General Lemnitzer, are to be my Advisor'. In other words, I'm 
not going to depend on Allen Dulles and the CIA. Historians have glossed 
over that or don't know about it." 58 

President Kennedy then asked the three principal CIA planners for the 
Bay of Pigs to resign: Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Richard Bis- 
sell, Jr., and Deputy Director General Charles Cabell. JFK also "moved qui- 
etly," as Schlesinger put it, "to cut the CIA budget in 1962 and again in 
1963, aiming at a 20 per cent reduction by 1966. " 59 He never managed to 
splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds. But 
Kennedy's firing of Dulles, Bissell, and Cabell, his reduction of the CIA 
budget, and his clear determination to deal with the Agency placed him in 
direct conflict with a Cold War institution that had come to hold itself 
accountable to no one. 

After John Kennedy's assassination, Allen Dulles returned to prominence 
in a curious way. Foreign observers, many more familiar than Americans 
with Dulles's history in assassination plots and the overthrow of govern- 
ments, wondered at the former CIA director's possible involvement in the 
murder of the man who had fired him and then tried to rein in the CIA. How- 
ever, far from being considered a suspect, one week after the assassination 
Dulles was appointed by the new president Lyndon Johnson to serve on the 
Warren Commission. He thus directed an investigation that pointed toward 

himself. 60 

Allen Dulles's own closely guarded feelings toward John Kennedy were 
revealed years later in a remark to a prospective ghostwriter. Harper's young 
assistant editor Willie Morris had gone to Dulles's Georgetown mansion in 
Washington to collaborate with him on a piece in defense of the CIA's role 
in the Bay of Pigs — a never-to-be-published article whose most revealing, 
handwritten notes would one day be cited in "The 'Confessions' of Allen 
Dulles." In one discussion they had about President Kennedy, Dulles stunned 
Morris with an abrupt comment. "That little Kennedy," Dulles said, "... he 
thought he was a god." "Even now," Morris wrote over a quarter of a cen- 
tury later, "those words leap out at me, the only strident ones I would hear 
from my unlikely collaborator." 61 

The Bay of Pigs awakened President Kennedy to internal forces he feared 
he might never control. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas recalled 
Kennedy saying what the Bay of Pigs taught him about the CIA and the Pen- 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


tagon: "This episode seared him. He had experienced the extreme power 
that these groups had, these various insidious influences of the CIA and the 
Pentagon on civilian policy, and I think it raised in his own mind the specter: 
Can Jack Kennedy, President of the United States, ever be strong enough to 
really rule these two powerful agencies?" 62 

t was while John Kennedy was being steered into combat by the CIA and 
the Pentagon at the Bay of Pigs that Thomas Merton was being blocked 
from publishing his thoughts on nuclear war by his monastic superiors. Mer- 
ton, like Kennedy, decided to find another way. The words pouring out of 
Merton's typewriter were spilling over from unpublished manuscripts into his 
Cold War letters. As he wrote in one such letter to antinuclear archbishop 
Thomas Roberts, "At present my feeling is that the most urgent thing is to 
say what has to be said and say it in any possible way. If it cannot be printed, 
then let it be mimeographed. If it cannot be mimeographed, then let it be 
written on the backs of envelopes, as long as it gets said." 63 

Thomas Merton saw the Bay of Pigs incident especially through the eyes 
of one of his Cold War correspondents, Evora Area de Sardinia in Miami. She 
wrote to Merton saying that her husband, a leader of the anti-Castro forces 
in the invasion, had been taken prisoner in Cuba. Merton replied to her on 
the day he received her letter, May 15, 1961, expressing his "deep compas- 
sion and concern in this moment of anguish." 64 

In their subsequent correspondence, Thomas Merton gave spiritual direc- 
tion to Evora Area de Sardinia as she became concerned at the divisions and 
spirit of revenge in the Cuban exile movement. In January 1962 he wrote to 
her: "The great error of the aggressive Catholics who want to preserve their 
power and social status at all costs is that they believe this can be done by 
force, and thus they prepare the way to lose everything they want to save." 65 

While President Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Robert 
Kennedy were working to raise a ransom to free the Bay of Pigs prisoners, 
Merton was warning Evora Area de Sardinia about the militant context in 
which she was living, which questioned the process of such a ransom. In the 
Miami Cuba colony, as she had written to Merton, paying a ransom to an 
evil force (the communist Fidel Castro), even to free their loved ones, was 
considered a breach of ethics and loyalty. 

Merton wrote back: "One thing I have always felt increases the trouble 
and the sorrow which rack you is the fact that living and working among the 
Cuban emigres in Miami, and surrounded by the noise of hate and propa- 
ganda, you are naturally under a great stress and in a sense you are 'forced' 
against your will to take an aggressive and belligerent attitude which your 
conscience, in its depth, tells you is wrong." 66 

As Merton knew, his concern about a surrounding stress applied not only 
to his friend in the midst of Cuban emigres in Miami but to everyone living 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

in Cold War America, a nation whose anti-communism and commitment to 
nuclear supremacy had placed, for example, its newly elected president "in 
a position sometimes so impossible as to be absurd." 

On December 31, 1961, Merton wrote a letter anticipating the Cuban 
Missile Crisis ten months later. It was addressed to Clare Boothe Luce, the 
wife of Time-Life-Fortune owner Henry Luce, a Cold War media baron 
whose editorial policies demonized the communist enemy. Clare Boothe 
Luce, celebrated speaker, writer, and diplomat, shared Henry Luce's Cold 
War theology. In 1975 Clare Boothe Luce would lead investigators into the 
JFK assassination, working for the House Select Committee on Assassina- 
tions (HSCA), on a time-consuming wild goose chase based on disinforma- 
tion. HSCA analyst Gaeton Fonzi discovered that Luce at the time was on the 
board of directors of the CIA-sponsored Association of Former Intelligence 
Officers. 67 Even in the early sixties, Merton with his extraordinary sensitiv- 
ity may have suspected Luce's intelligence connections. In any case he knew 
her as one of the wealthiest, most influential women in the world, with a 
decidedly anti-communist mind-set. He welcomed her, as he did one and all, 
into his circle of correspondents. 

In his New Year's Eve letter to Clare Boothe Luce, Merton said he thought 
the next year would be momentous. "Though 'all manner of things shall be 
well,'" he wrote, "we cannot help but be aware, on the threshold of 1962, 
that we have enormous responsibilities and tasks of which we are perhaps no 
longer capable. Our sudden, unbalanced, top-heavy rush into technological 
mastery," Merton saw, had now made us servants of our own weapons of 
war. "Our weapons dictate what we are to do. They force us into awful cor- 
ners. They give us our living, they sustain our economy, they bolster up our 
politicians, they sell our mass media, in short we live by them. But if they con- 
tinue to rule us we will also most surely die by them." 68 

Merton was a cloistered monk who watched no television and saw only 
an occasional newspaper. However, he had far-flung correspondents and spir- 
itual antennae that were always on the alert. He could thus identify in his let- 
ter to Clare Boothe Luce the strategic nuclear issue that would bring 
humanity to the brink in October 1962: "For [our weapons] have now made 
it plain that they are the friends of the 'preemptive strike'. They are most 
advantageous to those who use them first. And consequently nobody wants 
to be too late in using them second. Hence the weapons keep us in a state of 
fury and desperation, with our fingers poised over the button and our eyes 
glued on the radar screen. You know what happens when you keep your eye 
fixed on something. You begin to see things that aren't there. It is very pos- 
sible that in 1962 the weapons will tell someone that there has been long 
enough waiting, and he will obey, and we will all have had it." 69 

"We have to be articulate and sane," Merton concluded, "and speak 
wisely on every occasion where we can speak, and to those who are willing 
to listen. That is why for one I speak to you," he said hopefully to Luce. 
"We have to try to some extent to preserve the sanity of this nation, and 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


keep it from going berserk which will be its destruction, and ours, and per- 
haps also the destruction of Christendom." 70 

As Merton challenged the Cold War dogmas of Clare Boothe Luce, he 
was raising similar questions of conscience to another powerfully situated 
woman, Ethel Kennedy. This was the period in which Merton still had little 
confidence in John Kennedy. He was nevertheless beginning to catch glimpses 
of a man who, like himself, was deeply troubled by the prevailing Cold War 
atmosphere. He began a December 1961 letter to Ethel Kennedy by noting 
a parallel between JFK's and his own thinking: "I liked very much the Pres- 
ident's speech at Seattle which encouraged me a bit as I had just written 
something along those same lines." 71 Merton was referring to John Kennedy's 
rejection, like his own, of the false alternatives "Red or dead" in a speech the 
president gave at the University of Washington in November 1961. Kennedy 
had said of this false dilemma and those who chose either side of it: "It is a 
curious fact that each of these extreme opposites resembles the other. Each 
believes that we have only two choices: appeasement or war, suicide or sur- 
render, humiliation or holocaust, to be either Red or dead." 72 

Merton made an extended analysis of the same Cold War cliche, "Red or 
dead," in the book his monastic superiors blocked from publication, Peace 
in the Post- Christian Era. There he observed: "We strive to soothe our mad- 
ness by intoning more and more vacuous cliches. And at such times, far from 
being as innocuous as they are absurd, empty slogans take on a dreadful 
power." 73 

The slogan he and Kennedy saw exemplifying such emptiness had begun 
in Germany in the form, "Better Red than dead." "It was deftly fielded on the 
first bounce by the Americans," Merton said, "and came back in reverse, thus 
acquiring an air of challenge and defiance. 'Better dead than Red' was a reply 
to effete and decadent cynicism. It was a condemnation of 'appeasement'. 
(Anything short of a nuclear attack on Russia rates as 'appeasement'.)" 

What the heroic emptiness of "Better dead than Red" ignored was "the 
real bravery of patient, humble, persevering labor to effect, step by step, 
through honest negotiation, a gradual understanding that can eventually 
relieve tensions and bring about some agreement upon which serious disar- 
mament measures can be based" 74 — precisely what he hoped Ethel Kennedy's 
brother-in-law would do from the White House. In his letter to her, Merton 
therefore went on to praise John Kennedy, yet did so while encouraging him 
to break through Cold War propaganda and speak the truth: "I think that 

the fact that the President works overtime at trying to get people to face the 
situation as it really is may be the greatest thing he is doing. Certainly our 
basic need is for truth, and not for 'images' and slogans that 'engineer con- 
sent.' We are living in a dream world. We do not know ourselves or our 
adversaries. We are myths to ourselves and they are myths to us. And we are 
secretly persuaded that we can shoot it out like the sheriffs on TV. This is not 
reality and the President can do a tremendous amount to get people to see 
the facts, more than any single person." 75 

20 JFK and the Unspeakable 

With inclusive language that did not single out JFK, but again with heavy 
implications for the president, Merton continued: "We cannot go on indefi- 
nitely relying on the kind of provisional framework of a balance of terror. If 
as Christians we were more certain of our duty, it might put us in a very tight 
spot politically but it would also merit for us special graces from God, and 
these we need badly." 76 

Merton was praying that Christians in particular — and a particular Chris- 
tian, John Kennedy — would become more certain of their duty to take a 
stand against nuclear terror, which would place JFK especially "in a very 
tight spot politically." Besides praying, Merton was doing more than writing 
words of protest on the backs of envelopes. He was appealing to the presi- 
dent, through Ethel Kennedy, for a courageous stand in conscience. Whether 
or not JFK ever read Merton's graceful letter to his sister-in-law, he would 
soon have to respond, in October 1962, to "special graces from God" if 
humanity were to survive. 

n the terminology of his own reflection on a military coup, John Kennedy 
did have a second "Bay of Pigs." The president alienated the CIA and the 
military a second time by his decisions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis may have been the most dangerous moment in 
human history. In the thirteen days from October 16 to 28, 1962, as the 
Soviet Union installed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy 
demanded publicly that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev dismantle and 
withdraw the missiles immediately. Kennedy also set up a naval "quaran- 
tine" that blockaded Soviet ships proceeding to the island. Ignoring the par- 
allel of the already existing deployment of U.S. missiles in Turkey alongside 
the Soviet Union, Kennedy declared that the deployment of Soviet missiles in 
Cuba was "a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status 
quo which cannot be accepted by this country." 77 In spite of Kennedy's mil- 
itant stand, his and Khrushchev's eventual resolution of the crisis by mutual 
concessions was not viewed favorably by Cold War hard-liners. 

The missile crisis arose because, as Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his mem- 
oirs, "we were quite certain that the [Bay of Pigs] invasion was only the begin- 
ning and that the Americans would not let Cuba alone." 78 To defend Cuba 
from the threat of another U.S. invasion, Khrushchev said he "had the idea 
of installing missiles with nuclear warheads in Cuba without letting the United 
States find out they were there until it was too late to do anything about 
them." 79 His strategy was twofold: "The main thing was that the installation 
of our missiles in Cuba would, I thought, restrain the United States from pre- 
cipitous military action against Castro's government. In addition to protect- 
ing Cuba, our missiles would have equalized what the West likes to call 'the 
balance of power.' The Americans had surrounded our country with military 
bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons, and now they would learn 
just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you." 80 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


Khrushchev's logic overlooked the frenzied mind of Cold War America. As 
Merton put it in a March 1962 letter, "the first and greatest of all com- 
mandments is that America shall not and must not be beaten in the Cold 
War, and the second is like unto this, that if a hot war is necessary to prevent 
defeat in the Cold War, then a hot war must be fought even if civilization is 
to be destroyed." 81 In that context, the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba 
placed President Kennedy in what Merton described as "a position so impos- 
sible as to be absurd." In a struggle between good and evil involving world- 
destructive weapons, the installation of Soviet missiles ninety miles from 
Florida brought home to Washington the temptation to strike first. Merton's 
warning to Clare Boothe Luce about a preemptive strike that year was com- 
ing true. As the construction of Soviet missile sites in Cuba accelerated, the 
pressures on President Kennedy for a preemptive U.S. strike became over- 
whelming. However, Kennedy resisted his advisers' push toward a nuclear 
war that he told them would obviously be "the final failure." 82 

He secretly taped the White House meetings during the crisis. The tapes 
were declassified, transcribed, and published in the late 1990s. 83 The tran- 
scripts reveal how isolated the president was in choosing to blockade fur- 
ther Soviet missile shipments rather than bomb and invade Cuba. Nowhere 
does he stand more alone against the pressures for a sudden, massive air 
strike than in his October 19, 1962, meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 
In this encounter the Chiefs' disdain for their young commander-in-chief is 
embodied by Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay, who challenges 
the president: 

LeMay: "This [blockade and political action] is almost as bad as the 
appeasement at Munich [a 1938 conference in Munich at which Britain, 
trying to avoid war with Nazi Germany, compelled Czechoslovakia to 
cede territory to Hitler] ... I just don't see any other solution except direct 
military intervention right now." 

A historian who has studied the missile crisis tapes for over twenty years, 
Sheldon Stern, has noted a pause in the conversation at this point, during 
which the Joint Chiefs "must have held their collective breath waiting for a 
reaction from the President. The general had gone well beyond merely giv- 
ing advice or even disagreeing with his commander-in-chief. He had taken 
their generation's ultimate metaphor for shortsightedness and cowardice, the 
1938 appeasement of Hitler at Munich, and flung it in the President's face." 

"President Kennedy," Stern says, "in a remarkable display of sang froid 
refused to take the bait; he said absolutely nothing." 84 

Ending the awkward silence, the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps Chiefs 
of Staff argue for the prompt military action of bombing and invading Cuba. 
General LeMay breaks in, reminding Kennedy of his strong statements about 
responding to offensive weapons in Cuba. He almost taunts the president: 

22 JFK and the Unspeakable 

LeMay: "I think that a blockade and political talk would be consid- 
ered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as bein' a pretty weak response 
to this. And I'm sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too. 

"In other words, you're in a pretty bad fix at the present time. 

Kennedy: "What'd you say?" 

LeMay: "I say, you're in a pretty bad fix." 

Kennedy: [laughing] "You're in with me, personally." 85 


The discussion continues, with Kennedy probing the Chiefs for further 
information and LeMay pushing the president to authorize a massive attack 
on Soviet missiles, Cuban air defenses, and all communications systems. As 
the meeting draws to a close, Kennedy rejects the arguments for a quick, 
massive attack and thanks his military commanders. 

Kennedy: "I appreciate your views. As I said, I'm sure we all under- 
stand how rather unsatisfactory our alternatives are." 86 

A few minutes later, the president leaves the room, but the tape keeps on 
recording. General LeMay, Army Chief of Staff General Earle Wheeler, and 
Marine Corps Commandant General David Shoup remain. Shoup, who is 
usually the most supportive of the Joint Chiefs toward Kennedy, praises 
LeMay's attack on the president: 

Shoup: "You were a . . . You pulled the rug right out from under him." 
LeMay: "Jesus Christ. What the hell do you mean?" 
Shoup: "... He's finally getting around to the word 'escalation.' . . . 
When he says 'escalation,' that's it. If somebody could keep 'em from 
doing the goddamn thing piecemeal, that's our problem ..." 

LeMay: "That's right." 

Shoup: "You're screwed, screwed, screwed. He could say, 'either do 
the son of a bitch and do it right and quit friggin' around.'" 
LeMay: "That was my contention." 87 

The White House tapes show Kennedy questioning and resisting the 
mounting pressure to bomb Cuba coming from both the Joint Chiefs and 
the Executive Committee (ExComm) of the National Security Council. One 
statement by Robert Kennedy that may have strengthened the president's 
resolve against a preemptive strike is unheard on the tapes. In his memoir of 
the missile crisis, Thirteen Days, RFK wrote that, while listening to the pro- 
posals for attack, he passed a note to the president: "I now know how To jo 
felt when he was planning Pearl Harbor." 88 

How John and Robert Kennedy felt together is best conveyed by Robert's 
description of his brother at one of the most terrible moments of the crisis. 
On Wednesday, October 24, a report came in that a Soviet submarine was 
about to be intercepted by U.S. helicopters with depth charges, unless by 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


some miracle the two Soviet ships it was accompanying turned back from the 
U.S. "quarantine" line. The president feared he had lost all control of the 
situation and that nuclear war was imminent. Robert looked at his brother: 

"His hand went up to his face and covered his mouth. He opened and 
closed his fist. His face seemed drawn, his eyes pained, almost gray. We stared 
at each other across the table. For a few fleeting seconds, it was almost as 
though no one else was there and he was no longer the president. 

"Inexplicably, I thought of when he was ill and almost died; when he lost 
his child; when we learned that our oldest brother had been killed; of per- 
sonal times of strain and hurt. The voices droned on . . ," 89 

The miracle occurred — through the enemy, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrush- 
chev ordered the Soviet ships to stop dead in the water rather than challenge 
the U.S. quarantine. At that moment he saved John Kennedy and everyone 

What moved Khrushchev to his decision? The incident goes unmentioned 
in his memoirs, as does another, hidden chapter of events that may help to 
explain it — Nikita Khrushchev's secret correspondence with John Kennedy. 

In July 1993, the U.S. State Department, in response to a Freedom of 
Information Act request by a Canadian newspaper, declassified twenty-one 
secret letters between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. 90 These pri- 
vate, confidential letters between the Cold War leaders, begun in September 
1961 and continued for two years, will be examined here for the bright light 
they shed on a relationship critical to the world's preservation. 

Khrushchev had sent his first private letter to Kennedy on September 29, 
1961, during the Berlin crisis. Wrapped in a newspaper, it was brought to 
Kennedy's press secretary Pierre Salinger at a New York hotel room by a 
Soviet "magazine editor" and KGB agent, Georgi Bolshakov, whom 
Khrushchev trusted to maintain silence. The secrecy was at least as much to 
avoid Soviet attention as American. As presidential aide Theodore Sorensen 

said three decades later, Khrushchev was "taking his risks, assuming that 

these letters were, as we believe, being kept secret from the (Soviet) military, 

from the foreign service, from the top people in the Kremlin. He was taking 
some risk that if discovered, they would be very unhappy with him." 91 

Khrushchev's first letter was written from a retreat beside the Black Sea. 
While the Berlin crisis was still not over, the Soviet premier began the corre- 
spondence with his enemy by meditating on the beauty of the sea and the 
threat of war. "Dear Mr. President," he wrote, "At present I am on the shore 
of the Black Sea . . . This is indeed a wonderful place. As a former Naval offi- 
cer you would surely appreciate the merits of these surroundings, the beauty 
of the sea and the grandeur of the Caucasian mountains. Under this bright 
southern sun it is even somehow hard to believe that there still exist prob- 
lems in the world which, due to lack of solutions, cast a sinister shadow on 
peaceful life, on the future of millions of people." 92 

Kennedy had been stunned in Vienna by what he felt was Khrushchev's 
hardness of heart toward a nuclear war and his unwillingness to compro- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

mise. Now as the threat of war over Berlin continued, Khrushchev expressed 
a regret about Vienna. He said he had "given much thought of late to the 
development of international events since our meeting in Vienna, and I have 
decided to approach you with this letter. The whole world hopefully expected 
that our meeting and a frank exchange of views would have a soothing effect, 
would turn relations between our countries into the correct channel and pro- 
mote the adoption of decisions which would give the peoples confidence that 
at last peace on earth will be secured. To my regret — and, I believe, to 
yours — this did not happen." 93 

However, Kennedy's abiding hopes for peace, beneath the bellicose rhet- 
oric that he and Khrushchev exchanged publicly, had somehow gotten 
through to his counterpart. Khrushchev continued with deepening respect: 

"I listened with great interest to the account which our journalists Adjubei 
and Kharlamov gave of the meeting they had with you in Washington. They 

gave me many interesting details and I questioned them most thoroughly. 
You prepossessed them by your informality, modesty and frankness which 
are not to be found very often in men who occupy such a high position." 

Again Khrushchev mentioned Vienna, this time as a backdrop to his deci- 
sion to write such a letter: 

"My thoughts have more than once returned to our meetings in Vienna. 
I remember you emphasized that you did not want to proceed towards war 
and favored living in peace with our country while competing in the peace- 
ful domain. And though subsequent events did not proceed in the way that 
could be desired, I thought it might be useful in a purely informal and per- 
sonal way to approach you and share some of my ideas. If you do not agree 
with me you can consider that this letter did not exist while naturally I, for 
my part, will not use this correspondence in my public statements. After all 
only in confidential correspondence can you say what you think without a 
backward glance at the press, at the journalists." 

"As you see," he added apologetically, "I started out by describing the 
delights of the Black Sea coast, but then I nevertheless turned to politics. But 
that cannot be helped. They say that you sometimes cast politics out through 
the door but it climbs back through the window, particularly when the win- 
dows are open." 94 

Khrushchev's first private letter to Kennedy was twenty-six pages long. It 
did deal passionately with politics, in particular Berlin (where the two lead- 
ers backed away from war but never reached agreement) and the civil war 
in Laos (where they agreed to recognize a neutral government). Even though 
in the process Khrushchev forgot his Black Sea calm and argued his points 
with a vengeance, he was as insistent on the fundamental need for peace as 
Kennedy had been in Vienna. The communist emphasized their common 
ground with a biblical analogy. Khrushchev liked, he said, the comparison of 
their situation "with Noah's Ark where both the 'clean' and the 'unclean' 

found sanctuary. But regardless of who lists himself with the 'clean' and who 
is considered to be 'unclean,' they are all equally interested in one thing and 
that is that the Ark should successfully continue its cruise. And we have no 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


other alternative: either we should live in peace and cooperation so that the 
Ark maintains its buoyancy, or else it sinks." 95 

Kennedy responded privately to Khrushchev on October 16, 1961, from 
his own place of retreat beside the ocean, Hyannis Port. He began in a sim- 
ilar vein: 

"My family has had a home here overlooking the Atlantic for many years. 
My father and brothers own homes near my own, and my children always 
have a large group of cousins for company. So this is an ideal place for me 
to spend my weekends during the summer and fall, to relax, to think, to 
devote my time to major tasks instead of constant appointments, telephone 
calls and details. Thus, I know how you must feel about the spot on the Black 
Sea from which your letter was written, for I value my own opportunities to 
get a clearer and quieter perspective away from the din of Washington." 

He thanked Khrushchev for initiating the correspondence and agreed to 
keep it quiet: "Certainly you are correct in emphasizing that this correspon- 
dence must be kept wholly private, not to be hinted at in public statements, 
much less disclosed to the press." Their private letters should supplement 
public statements "and give us each a chance to address the other in frank, 
realistic and fundamental terms. Neither of us is going to convert the other 
to a new social, economic or political point of view. Neither of us will be 
induced by a letter to desert or subvert his own cause. So these letters can be 
free from the polemics of the 'cold war' debate." 

Kennedy agreed wholeheartedly with Khrushchev's biblical image: "I like 
very much your analogy of Noah's Ark, with both the 'clean' and the 
'unclean' determined that it stay afloat. Whatever our differences, our col- 
laboration to keep the peace is as urgent — if not more urgent — than our col- 
laboration to win the last world war." 96 

After a year of private letters that included more than a little "cold war 
debate," Kennedy and Khrushchev had by October 1962 not resolved their 
most dangerous differences. The missile crisis was proof of that. Their mutual 
respect had given way to mistrust, counter-challenges, and steps toward the 
war they both abhorred. In the weeks leading up to the crisis, Khrushchev felt 
betrayed by Kennedy's contingency plans for another Cuba invasion, whereas 
Kennedy thought Khrushchev was betraying him by sneaking nuclear missiles 
into Cuba. Both were again acting out Cold War beliefs that threatened 
everyone on earth. Nevertheless, as they faced each other and issued poten- 
tially world-destructive orders, it was still thanks to the Vienna meeting and 
their secret letters that each knew the other as a human being he could 
respect. They also knew they had once agreed warmly that the world was a 
Noah's Ark, where both the "clean" and the "unclean" had to keep it afloat. 
It was in just such a world, where "clean" and "unclean" were together 
under a nuclear threat, that Khrushchev stopped his ships dead in the water 
and the Ark remained afloat. 

However, the crisis was not over. Work on the missile sites was in fact 
speeding up. Pentagon and ExComm advisers increased their pressures on the 
president for a preventive strike. 

26 JFK and the Unspeakable 

On Friday night, October 26, Kennedy received a hopeful letter from 
Khrushchev in which the Soviet premier agreed to withdraw his missiles. In 
exchange, Kennedy would pledge not to invade Cuba. However, on Saturday 
morning, Kennedy received a second, more problematic letter from Khrush- 
chev adding to those terms the demand for a U.S. commitment to remove its 
analogous missiles from Turkey. In exchange, Khrushchev would pledge not 
to invade Turkey. Tit for tat. 

Kennedy was perplexed. Khrushchev's second proposal was reasonable 
in its symmetry. However, Kennedy felt he could not suddenly surrender a 
NATO ally's defenses under a threat, failing to recognize for the moment 
that he was demanding Khrushchev do the equivalent with his ally Castro. 

While the Joint Chiefs pressed their demands on the president for an air 
strike on Monday, an urgent message arrived heightening those pressures. 
Early that Saturday morning, a Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM) had shot 
down a U-2 reconnaissance plane over Cuba, killing the Air Force pilot, 
Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. The Joint Chiefs and ExComm had already rec- 
ommended immediate retaliation in such a case. They now urged an attack 
early the next morning to destroy the SAM sites. "There was the feeling," 
said Robert Kennedy, "that the noose was tightening on all of us, on Amer- 
icans, on mankind, and that the bridges to escape were crumbling." 97 "But 
again," he adds, "the President pulled everyone back." 98 JFK called off the 
Air Force reprisal for the U-2's downing. He continued the search for a peace- 
ful resolution. The Joint Chiefs were dismayed. Robert Kennedy and 
Theodore Sorensen then drafted a letter accepting Khrushchev's first pro- 
posal, while ignoring the later demand that the United States withdraw its 
missiles from Turkey. 

As the war currents swirled around the White House, John and Robert 
Kennedy met in the Oval Office. Robert described later the thoughts his 
brother shared with him. 

He talked first about Major Anderson and how the brave died while politi- 
cians sat home pontificating about great issues. He talked about miscalcula- 
tions leading to war, a war Russians didn't want any more than Americans 
did. He wanted to make sure he had done everything conceivable to prevent 
a terrible outcome, especially by giving the Russians every opportunity for a 
peaceful settlement that would neither diminish their security nor humiliate 
them. But "the thought that disturbed him the most," Robert said, "and that 
made the prospect of war much more fearful than it would otherwise have 
been, was the specter of the death of the children of this country and all the 
world — the young people who had no role, who had no say, who knew noth- 
ing even of the confrontation, but whose lives would be snuffed out like 

everyone else's. They would never have a chance to make a decision, to vote 
in an election, to run for office, to lead a revolution, to determine their own 


"It was this," wrote Robert in a work published after his own assassina- 
tion, "that troubled him most, that gave him such pain. And it was then that 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


he and Secretary Rusk decided that I should visit with Ambassador Dobrynin 
and personally convey the President's great concern." 99 

Robert Kennedy's climactic meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly 
Dobrynin became the moving force for Khrushchev's dramatic announce- 
ment that he was withdrawing the missiles. Khrushchev wrote in his mem- 
oirs what he thought Robert Kennedy told Dobrynin, who had relayed it to 

"The President is in a grave situation,' Robert Kennedy said, 'and he does 
not know how to get out of it. We are under very severe stress. In fact we are 
under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba . . . We want to 
ask you, Mr. Dobrynin, to pass President Kennedy's message to Chairman 
Khrushchev through unofficial channels . . . Even though the President him- 
self is very much against starting a war over Cuba, an irreversible chain of 
events could occur against his will. That is why the President is appealing 
directly to Chairman Khrushchev for his help in liquidating this conflict. If 

the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the mili- 
tary will not overthrow him and seize power.'" 100 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Foreign Ministry declassi- 
fied Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin's October 27, 1962, cable describing his 
critical one-on-one meeting with Robert Kennedy. Dobrynin's report offers 
a less dramatic version than Khrushchev's memoirs of Robert Kennedy's 
words concerning the military pressures on President Kennedy: "taking time 
to find a way out [of the situation] is very risky. (Here R. Kennedy mentioned 
as if in passing that there are many unreasonable heads among the generals, 
and not only among the generals, who 'are itching for a fight.') The situation 
might get out of control, with irreversible consequences." 101 

In Robert Kennedy's own account of the meeting in Thirteen Days, he 

does not mention telling Dobrynin of the military pressures on the president. 
However, his friend and biographer Arthur Schlesinger says, whatever the 

Attorney General said to Dobrynin, RFK was himself of the opinion there 
were many generals eager for a fight. Robert thought the situation could get 
totally out of control. 102 

In any case, Khrushchev felt the urgency of the pressures on the president. 
He responded by withdrawing his missiles. 

Is there any evidence U.S. military leaders took advantage of the missile 
crisis, not to overthrow President Kennedy but to bypass him? Were they 
trying to trigger a war they felt they could win? 

According to political scientist Scott Sagan in his book The Limits of 
Safety, the U.S. Air Force launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from 
Vandenberg Air Force Base on October 26, 1962, the day before the U-2 
was shot down. The ICBM was unarmed, a test missile destined for Kwa- 
jalein in the Marshall Islands. The Soviet Union could easily have thought 
otherwise. Three days before, a test missile at Vandenberg had received a 
nuclear warhead, changing it to full alert status for the crisis. By October 
30, nine Vandenberg "test" missiles were armed for use against the Sovi- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

ets. 103 At the height of the missile crisis, the Air Force's October 26th launch 
of its missile could have been seen by the Soviets as the beginning of an 
attack. It was a dangerous provocation. Had the Soviets been suckered into 
giving any sign of a launch of their own, the entire array of U.S. missiles and 
bombers were poised to preempt them. They were already at the top rung of 
their nuclear war status, DefCon (Defense Condition)-2, totally prepared for 
a massive strike. 

Also at the height of the crisis, as writer Richard Rhodes learned from a 
retired Air Force commander, "SAC [Strategic Air Command] airborne-alert 
bombers deliberately flew past their customary turnaround points toward 
the Soviet Union — an unambiguous threat that Soviet radar operators would 
certainly have recognized and reported." 104 With their far superior number 
of missiles and bombers, U.S. forces were prepared for a preemptive attack 
at the slightest sign of a Soviet response to their provocation. Fortunately 
the Soviets didn't bite. 

President Kennedy had reason to feel he was being circumvented by the 
military so they could win a nuclear showdown. Kennedy may also have 
recalled that Khrushchev, in his second secret letter to the president, on 
November 9, 1961, regarding Berlin, had hinted that belligerent pressures in 
Moscow made compromise difficult from his own side. "You have to under- 
stand," he implored Kennedy, "I have no ground to retreat further, there is 
a precipice behind." 105 Kennedy had not pushed him. Now there was a 
precipice behind Kennedy, and Khrushchev understood. 

Khrushchev recalled the conclusion of Dobrynin's report as Robert 
Kennedy's words, "I don't know how much longer we can hold out against 
our generals." 106 Since Khrushchev had also just received an urgent message 
from Castro that a U.S. attack on Cuba was "almost imminent," 107 he has- 
tened to respond: "We could see that we had to reorient our position swiftly 
. . . We sent the Americans a note saying that we agreed to remove our mis- 
siles and bombers on the condition that the President give us his assurance 
that there would be no invasion of Cuba by the forces of the United States 
or anybody else." 108 

Kennedy agreed, and Khrushchev began removing the Soviet missiles. The 
crisis was over. 109 Neither side revealed that, as part of the agreement, on the 
analogous issue of U.S. missiles in Turkey Robert Kennedy had in fact prom- 
ised Anatoly Dobrynin that they, too, would be withdrawn but not immedi- 
ately. 110 It could not be done unilaterally at a moment's notice. The promise 
was fulfilled. Six months later the United States took its missiles out of 

Twenty-five years after the missile crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk 
would reveal that President Kennedy was prepared to make a further con- 
cession to Khrushchev in order to avoid war. Rusk said that on October 27, 
after Robert Kennedy left to meet Dobrynin, the president "instructed me to 
telephone the late Andrew Cordier, then [president] at Columbia University, 
and dictate to him a statement which would be made by U Thant, the Sec- 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


retary General of the United Nations [and a friend of Cordier], proposing the 
removal of the Jupiters [in Turkey] and the missiles in Cuba. Mr. Cordier 
was to put that statement in the hands of U Thant only after further signal 
from us." 111 Rusk phoned the statement to Cordier. However, when 

Khrushchev accepted Robert Kennedy's promise to Dobrynin that the Jupiter 
missiles would be removed, Kennedy's further readiness for a public trade 
mediated by U Thant became unnecessary. The president's willingness to go 
that extra mile with Khrushchev, at a heavy political cost to himself, shocked 
the former ExComm members to whom Rusk revealed it for the first time at 
the Hawk's Cay (Florida) Conference on March 7, 1987. 

The extent to which Kennedy's willingness to trade away missiles with 
Khrushchev was beyond political orthodoxy at the time can be illustrated 
by my own experience. In May 1963 I wrote an article on Pope John XXIII's 
encyclical Pacem in Terris. It was published by Dorothy Day in her radically 
pacifist Catholic Worker newspaper. The article said that, in harmony with 
Pope John's theme of increasing mutual trust as the basis for peace, the 
United States should have resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis by negotiating 
a mutual withdrawal of missile bases with the Soviet Union. Unknown to 
Dorothy Day and myself, our politically unacceptable view was what Presi- 
dent Kennedy had committed himself to doing in the midst of that crisis, at 
whatever political cost, and had in fact carried through secretly with Nikita 
Khrushchev. 112 

How close did the United States and the Soviet Union come to a nuclear 

From the Joint Chiefs' standpoint, not close enough. The only real dan- 
ger, they thought, came from the President's lack of will in not attacking the 
Russians in Cuba. 

At the October 19 meeting between the president and the Chiefs, when 
General LeMay argued for a surprise attack on the Russian missiles as soon 
as possible, President Kennedy had asked him skeptically, "What do you 
think their reprisal would be?" 

LeMay said there would be no reprisal so long as Kennedy warned 
Khrushchev that he was ready to fight also in Berlin. 

After Admiral George Anderson made the same point, Kennedy said 
sharply, "They can't let us just take out, after all their statements, take out 
their missiles, kill a lot of Russians, and not do . . . not do anything." 113 

After the meeting, the President recounted the conversation to his aide 
Dave Powers and said, "Can you imagine LeMay saying a thing like that? 
These brass hats have one great advantage in their favor. If we listen to them, 
and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them 
that they were wrong." 114 

In a conversation that fall with his friend John Kenneth Galbraith, 
Kennedy again spoke angrily of the reckless pressures his advisers, both mil- 
itary and civilian, had put on him to bomb the Cuban missile sites. "I never 
had the slightest intention of doing so," said the president. 115 

30 JFK and the Unspeakable 

Thirty years after the crisis, Kennedy's Defense Secretary Robert McNamara 
was surprised to learn the contents of a November 1992 article in the Russ- 
ian press. The article revealed that at the height of the crisis Soviet forces in 
Cuba had possessed a total of 162 nuclear warheads. The more critical strate- 
gic fact, unknown to the United States at the time, was that these weapons 
were ready to be fired. On October 26, 1962, the day before the U-2 was shot 
down, the nuclear warheads in Cuba had been prepared for launching. 

Enlightened by this knowledge, McNamara wrote in his memoirs: 

"Clearly, there was a high risk that, in the face of a U.S. attack — which, 
as I have said, many in the U.S. government, military and civilian alike, were 
prepared to recommend to President Kennedy — the Soviet forces in Cuba 
would have decided to use their nuclear weapons rather than lose them. 

"We need not speculate about what would have happened in that event. 
We can predict the results with certainty . . . And where would it have ended? 
In utter disaster." 116 

In the climactic moments of the Cold War, John Kennedy's resistance to 
pressures for a first strike, combined with Nikita Khrushchev's quick under- 
standing and retreat, saved the lives of millions of people, perhaps the life of 
the planet. 

In those days, however, when compromise was regarded as treason, U.S. 
military leaders were not pleased by the Kennedy-Khrushchev resolution of 

the crisis. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were outraged at Kennedy's refusal to 

attack Cuba and even his known concessions to Khrushchev. McNamara 

recalled how strongly the Chiefs expressed their feelings to the president. 

"After Khrushchev had agreed to remove the missiles, President Kennedy 

invited the Chiefs to the White House so that he could thank them for their 

support during the crisis, and there was one hell of a scene. LeMay came out 

saying, 'We lost! We ought to just go in there today and knock 'em off!'" 117 

Robert Kennedy was also struck by the Chiefs' anger at the president. 
"Admiral [George] Anderson's reaction to the news," he said, "was 'We have 
been had.'" 118 

"The military are mad," President Kennedy told Arthur Schlesinger, "They 
wanted to do this." 119 Yet as angry as the Chiefs were at Kennedy's handling 
of the missile crisis, their anger would deepen in the following year. They 
would witness a Cold War president not only refusing their first-strike man- 
date but also turning decisively toward peace with the enemy. 

On Sunday morning, October 28, after Kennedy and Khrushchev had 
agreed mutually to withdraw their most threatening missiles, JFK went to 
Mass in Washington to pray in thanksgiving. As he and Dave Powers were 
about to get into the White House car, Kennedy looked at Powers and said, 
"Dave, this morning we have an extra reason to pray." 120 

At the Abbey of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton's response to the Cuban 
Missile Crisis was also a prayer of thanksgiving. He wrote Daniel Berrigan: 
"As for Cuba, well thank God we escaped the results of our own folly this 
time. We excel in getting ourselves into positions where we 'have to' press the 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


button, or the next thing to it. I realize more and more that this whole war 
question is nine-tenths our own fabricated illusion ... I think Kennedy has 
enough sense to avoid the worst injustices, he acts as if he knew the score. 
But few others seem to." 121 

Regarding the president's handling of the crisis, Merton wrote Etta Gul- 
lick in England: "Of course things being what they were, Kennedy hardly 
had any alternative. My objection is to things being as they are, through the 
stupidity and shortsightedness of politicians who have no politics." 122 

To Ethel Kennedy he said further: "The Cuba business was a close call, but 
in the circumstances I think JFK handled it very well. I say in the circum- 
stances, because only a short-term look at it makes one very happy. It was a 
crisis and something had to be done and there was only a choice of various 
evils. He chose the best evil, and it worked. The whole thing continues to be 
nasty." 123 

On Sunday afternoon, October 28, with the crisis over, Robert Kennedy 
returned to the White House and talked with the president for a long time. 
When Robert got ready to leave, John said, in reference to the death of Abra- 
ham Lincoln, "This is the night I should go to the theater." His brother 
replied, "If you go, I want to go with you." 124 They would both go soon. 

ohn Kennedy's third Bay of Pigs was his Commencement Address at Amer- 
ican University in Washington. Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins 
summed up the significance of this remarkable speech: "At American Uni- 
versity on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy proposed an end to the Cold 
War." 125 

The Cold Warrior John F. Kennedy was turning, in the root biblical sense 
of the word "turning" — teshuvab in the Hebrew Scriptures, metanoia in the 
Greek, "repentance" in English. In the Cuban Missile Crisis John Kennedy 
as president of the United States had begun to turn away from, to repent 
from, his own complicity with the worst of U.S. imperialism — its willingness 
to destroy the world in order to "save it" from Communism. Nevertheless, 
in the process of turning from the brink, Kennedy seemed unable to begin 
walking in a new direction. 

In the aftermath of the missile crisis, he was alternately hopeful and frus- 
trated. The imminence of holocaust had pushed him and Khrushchev toward 
a new commitment to negotiations. Yet in the months following the crisis, the 
Cold War opponents seemed unable to seize the moment. 

They agreed that a ban on nuclear testing was a critical next step away 
from the brink. Yet both men had a history of conducting nuclear tests that 
contaminated the atmosphere and heightened the tensions between them. In 
response to the Soviet Union's nuclear tests in the summer of 1961, Kennedy 
had resumed U.S. atmospheric tests on April 25, 1962. The United States 
then carried out a series of twenty-four nuclear blasts in the South Pacific 
from April to November of 1962. 126 

32 JFK and the Unspeakable 

In the context of their precarious resolution of the missile crisis and their 
tit-f or-tat nuclear testing, Kennedy and Khrushchev struggled to agree on a 
test ban. Khrushchev said the United States was using its condition of on-site 
inspections as a strategy for spying on the U.S.S.R. For the sake of peace, he 
had already agreed to the U.S. position of three annual inspections, only to 
see the Americans suddenly demand more. Kennedy said Khrushchev had 
mistaken the original U.S. position. Khrushchev replied pointedly through an 

"You can tell the President I accept his explanation of an honest misun- 
derstanding and suggest that we get moving. But the next move is up to 
him." 127 

Kennedy accepted Khrushchev's challenge. His American University 
address broke the deadlock by transforming the context. By the empathy he 
expressed toward the Russian perspective, Kennedy created a bridge to 
Khrushchev. They would then have five and a half months left to make peace 
before JFK's murder. At the same time as Kennedy's speech reached out to 
Khrushchev, it opened a still wider chasm between the president and his own 
military and intelligence advisers. To the Pentagon and CIA, the president's 
words of peace at American University seemed to put him on the enemy's 

Their resistance to Kennedy's stand can be understood from the stand- 
point of the independent power base they had developed during the Cold 
War. We have already seen how President Truman exulted at the bombing of 
Hiroshima. From a failure to internalize the suffering beneath the mushroom 
clouds at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Truman administration began an era 
of atomic diplomacy based on hubris. Truman, supremely confident because 
he had unilateral possession of the atomic bomb, tried to dictate postwar 
terms in Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. A month after Hiroshima, the 
Soviets rejected U.S. demands backed by the bomb at the London Council of 
Foreign Ministers. John Foster Dulles, who attended the London meeting, 
regarded it as the beginning of the Cold War. 128 President Truman then 
announced in September 1945 that he was not interested in seeking interna- 
tional control over nuclear weapons. If other nations wanted to "catch up" 
with the United States, he said, "they [would] have to do it on their own 
hook, just as we did." Truman agreed with a friend's comment on the impli- 
cations of this policy: "Then Mister President, what it amounts to is this. 
That the armaments race is on." 129 

Truman continued to use the bomb as a threat to force Soviet concessions. 
He felt he did so successfully in Iran just seven months after Hiroshima and 
Nagasaki. The Russian army was prolonging a wartime occupation in north- 
ern Iran, seeking Soviet oil leases like those of the British in the south. Tru- 
man later told Senator Henry Jackson that he had summoned Soviet 
Ambassador Andrei Gromyko to the White House. The president demanded 
that the Russian troops evacuate Iran within forty-eight hours or the United 
States would use the atomic weapon that only it possessed. "We're going to 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


drop it on you," he told Gromyko. The troops moved in twenty-four 
hours. 130 

On a wider front, the United States enforced a Cold War strategy of con- 
taining the Soviet Union. The containment policy was formulated by State 
Department diplomat George Kennan, writing as "X" in the July 1947 For- 
eign Affairs. Although Kennan said the purpose of containment was more 
diplomatic and political than military, the Pentagon carried it out by encir- 
cling the U.S.S.R. with U.S. bases and patrolling forces. 

To match the efficiency of a totalitarian enemy, U.S. military leaders urged 
legislation that would mobilize the nation to a state of constant readiness 
for war. Thus the National Security Act of 1947 laid the foundations of a 
national security state: the National Security Council (NSC), the National 
Security Resources Board (NSRB), the Munitions Board, the Research and 
Development Board, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 131 Before the act was 
passed, Secretary of State George Marshall warned President Truman that it 
granted the new intelligence agency in particular powers that were "almost 
unlimited," 132 a criticism of the CIA that Truman would echo much too 
late — soon after the assassination of John Kennedy. 

On June 18, 1948, Truman's National Security Council took a further 
step into a CIA quicksand and approved top-secret directive NSC 10/2, 
which sanctioned U.S. intelligence to carry out a broad range of covert oper- 
ations: "propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action including 
sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion 
against hostile states including assistance to underground resistance move- 
ments, guerrillas, and refugee liberation groups." 133 The CIA was now 
empowered to be a paramilitary organization. George Kennan, who spon- 
sored NSC 10/2, said later in the light of history that it was "the greatest 
mistake I ever made." 134 

Since NSC 10/2 authorized violations of international law, it also estab- 
lished official lying as their indispensable cover. All such activities had to be 
"so planned and executed that any US government responsibility for them is 
not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered the US govern- 
ment can plausibly deny any responsibility for them." 135 The national secu- 
rity doctrine of "plausible deniability" combined lying with hypocrisy. It 
marked the creation of a Frankenstein monster. 

Plausible deniability encouraged the autonomy of the CIA and other 
covert-action ("intelligence") agencies from the government that created 
them. In order to protect the visible authorities of the government from 
protest and censure, the CIA was authorized not only to violate international 
law but to do so with as little consultation as possible. CIA autonomy went 
hand in glove with plausible deniability. The less explicit an order from the 
president, the better it was for "plausible deniability." And the less consul- 
tation there was, the more creative CIA authorities could become in inter- 
preting the mind of the president, especially the mind of a president so 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

uncooperative that he wanted to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and 
scatter it to the winds. 

At the 1975 Senate hearings on U.S. intelligence operations chaired by 
Senator Frank Church, CIA officials testified reluctantly on their efforts to 
kill Fidel Castro. In late 1960, without the knowledge of President Dwight 
Eisenhower, the CIA had contacted underworld figures John Rosselli, Sam 
Giancana, and Santos Trafficante, offering them $150,000 for Castro's assas- 
sination. 136 The gangsters were happy to be hired by the U.S. government to 
murder the man who had shut down their gambling casinos in Cuba. If they 
were successful, they hoped a U.S. -sponsored successor to Castro would 
allow them to reopen the casinos. 

In the spring of 1961, without the knowledge of the new president John 
Kennedy, the CIA's Technical Services Division prepared a batch of poison 
pills for Castro. The pills were sent to Cuba through John Rosselli. The mur- 
der plot failed because the CIA's Cuban assets were unable to get close 
enough to Castro to poison him. 137 The CIA's purpose was to kill Castro just 
before the Bay of Pigs invasion. As Bay of Pigs planner Richard Bissell said 
later, "Assassination was intended to reinforce the [invasion] plan. There 
was the thought that Castro would be dead before the landing. Very few, 
however, knew of this aspect of the plan." 138 

After President Kennedy fired Bissell from the CIA for his role in the Bay 
of Pigs, Richard Helms, his successor as Deputy Director of Plans, took up 
where Bissell had left off in conspiring to kill Castro. Helms testified to the 
Church Committee that he never informed either the president or his newly 
appointed CIA director John McCone of the assassination plots. Nor did he 
inform any other officials in the Kennedy administration. Helms said he 
sought no approval for the murder attempts because assassination was not 
a subject that should be aired with higher authority. 139 When he was asked 
if President Kennedy had been informed, Helms said that "nobody wants to 
embarrass a President of the United States by discussing the assassination of 
foreign leaders in his presence." 140 He also didn't seek the approval of the 
Special Group Augmented that oversaw the anti-Castro program because, 
he said, "I didn't see how one would have expected that a thing like killing 
or murdering or assassination would become a part of a large group of peo- 
ple sitting around a table in the United States Government." 141 

John McCone and the other surviving members of the Kennedy Admin- 
istration testified that "assassination was outside the parameters of the 
Administration's anti-Castro program." 142 Yet Richard Helms and other CIA 
insiders kept running assassination plots in conflict with the president's 

In November 1961, seven months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, John 
Kennedy asked journalist Tad Szulc in a private conversation in the Oval 
Office, "What would you think if I ordered Castro to be assassinated?" The 
startled Szulc said he was against political assassination in principle and in any 
case doubted if it would solve the Cuban problem. The president leaned back 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


in his rocking chair, smiled, and said he had been testing Szulc and agreed 
with his answer. Kennedy said "he was under great pressure from advisors in 
the Intelligence Community (whom he did not name) to have Castro killed, 
but that he himself violently opposed it on the grounds that for moral reasons 
the United States should never be party to political assassinations." 

"I'm glad you feel the same way," Kennedy told Szulc. 143 

Richard Helms, however, did not feel the same way. Helms was known as 
"the man who kept the secrets," the title of his biography. 144 He was a mas- 
ter of the possibilities beneath plausible deniability, exemplified by his com- 
mand and control of the CIA's plots to kill Castro. As Helms demonstrated 
in his Church Committee testimony, he and other CIA Cold War veterans 
thought they knew the president's mind better than the president did himself. 
This assumed responsibility became a problem for the CIA and its Pentagon 
allies when President Kennedy acted with a mind of his own and decided to 
end the Cold War. 

In the weeks leading up to his American University address, Kennedy pre- 
pared the ground carefully for the leap of peace he planned to take. He first 
joined British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in proposing to Khrushchev 
new high-level talks on a test ban treaty. They suggested that Moscow be 
the site for the talks, itself an act of trust. Khrushchev accepted. 

To reinforce the seriousness of the negotiations, Kennedy decided to sus- 
pend U.S. tests in the atmosphere unilaterally. Surrounded by Cold War 
advisers, he reached his decision independently — without their recommen- 
dations or consultation. He knew few would support him as he went out on 
that limb; others might cut it down before he could get there. He announced 
his unilateral initiative at American University, as a way of jump-starting the 
test-ban negotiations. 

In both speech and action, Kennedy was trying to reverse eighteen years 
of U.S.-Soviet polarization. He had seen U.S. belligerence toward the Rus- 
sians build to the point of Pentagon pressures for preemptive strikes on the 
Cuban missile sites. In his decision in the spring of 1963 to turn from a demo- 
nizing Cold War theology, Kennedy knew he had few allies within his own 
ruling circles. 

He outlined his thoughts for what he called "the peace speech" to adviser 
and speechwriter Sorensen, and told him to go to work. Only a handful of 

advisers knew anything about the project. Arthur Schlesinger, who was one 

of them, said, "We were asked to send our best thoughts to Ted Sorensen and 

to say nothing about this to anybody." 145 On the eve of the speech, Soviet 

officials and White House correspondents were alerted in general terms. The 

speech, they were informed, would be of major importance. 146 

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy introduced his subject to the grad- 
uating class at American University as "the most important topic on earth: 
world peace." 

"What kind of peace do I mean?" he asked, "What kind of peace do we 

36 JFK and the Unspeakable 

"Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of 
war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking 
about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, 
the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a 
better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for 
all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time." 147 

Kennedy's rejection of "a Pax Americana enforced on the world by Amer- 
ican weapons of war" was an act of resistance to what President Eisenhower 
had identified in his Farewell Address as the military-industrial complex. 
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms 
industry," Eisenhower had warned three days before Kennedy's inaugura- 
tion, "is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, 
political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office 
of the Federal government ..." 

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of 
unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-indus- 
trial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists 
and will persist." 148 

What Eisenhower in the final hours of his presidency revealed as the great- 
est threat to our democracy Kennedy in the midst of his presidency chose to 
resist. The military-industrial complex was totally dependent on "a Pax 
Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war." That Pax 
Americana policed by the Pentagon was considered the system's indispensa- 
ble, hugely profitable means of containing and defeating Communism. At 
great risk Kennedy was rejecting the foundation of the Cold War system. 

In his introduction at American University, President Kennedy noted the 
standard objection to the view he was opening up: What about the Russians? 

"Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world 
government — and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union 
adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them 

do it." 

He then countered our own prejudice with what Schlesinger called "a sen- 
tence capable of revolutionizing the whole American view of the cold war": 
"But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude — as individu- 
als and as a Nation — for our attitude is as essential as theirs." 

Kennedy's turn here corresponds to the Gospel insight: "Why do you see 
the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" 
(Luke 6:41). 

The nonviolent theme of the American University Address is that self- 
examination is the beginning of peace. Kennedy was proposing to the Amer- 
ican University graduates (and the national audience behind them) that they 
unite this inner journey of peace with an outer journey that could transform 
the Cold War landscape. 

"Every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of 
war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward — by exam- 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


ining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet 
Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace 
here at home." 

Thus ended Kennedy's groundbreaking preamble, an exhortation to per- 
sonal and national self-examination as the spiritually liberating way to over- 
come Cold War divisions and achieve "not merely peace in our time but 
peace for all time." In his American University address, John Kennedy was 
proclaiming a way out of the Cold War and into a new human possibility. 

ne pawn in the Cold War who needed a way out before it was too late 
was a young ex-Marine, Lee Harvey Oswald. 

In following Kennedy's path through a series of critical conflicts, we have 
been moving more deeply into the question: Why was John F. Kennedy mur- 
dered? Now as we begin to trace Oswald's path, which will converge with 
Kennedy's, we can see the emergence of a strangely complementary ques- 
tion: Why was Lee Harvey Oswald so tolerated and supported by the gov- 
ernment he betrayed? 

On October 31, 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been discharged two 
months earlier from the U.S. Marine Corps in California, presented himself 
at the American Embassy in Moscow to Consul Richard E. Snyder. Oswald 
said his purpose in coming was to renounce his U.S. citizenship. He handed 
Snyder a note he had written, in which he requested that his citizenship be 
revoked and affirmed that "my allegiance is to the Union of Soviet Socialist 
Republics." 149 According to the Warren Report, "Oswald stated to Snyder 
that he had voluntarily told Soviet officials that he would make known to 
them all information concerning the Marine Corps and his specialty therein, 
radar operation, as he possessed." 150 To the Soviet officials who received his 
offer, Oswald said he "intimated that he might know something of special 
interest." 151 

The Soviets had reason to think Oswald knew "something of special inter- 
est." From September 1957 to November 1958 Oswald had been a Marine 
Corps radar operator at Atsugi Air Force Base in Japan. Atsugi, located 
about thirty-five miles southwest of Tokyo, served as the CIA's main opera- 
tional base in the Far East. It was one of two bases from which the CIA's 
top-secret U-2 spy planes took off on their flights over the Soviet Union and 
China. The U-2 was the creation of the CIA's Richard Bissell, also the main 
author of the Bay of Pigs scenario. Bissell worked closely on the U-2's Soviet 
overflights with CIA director Allen Dulles. Radar operator Oswald was a 
small cog in the machine, but he was learning how it worked. From his radar 
control room at Atsugi, where he had a "crypto" clearance (higher than "top 
secret"), Oswald listened regularly to the U-2's radio communications. 152 

After Atsugi, Oswald was reassigned as a radar operator to Marine Air 
Control Squadron No. 9 in Santa Ana, California, which was attached to 
the larger Marine Air Station in El Toro. Oswald continued to have access 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

to secret information that would have been of interest to a Cold War enemy. 
Former Marine Corps Lieutenant John E. Donovan, who was Oswald's offi- 
cer in the Santa Ana radar unit, testified to the Warren Commission that 
Oswald "had the access to the location of all bases in the west coast area, all 
radio frequencies for all squadrons, all tactical call signs, and the relative 
strength of all squadrons, number and type of aircraft in a squadron, who 
was the commanding officer, the authentication code of entering and exiting 
the ADIZ, which stands for Air Defense Identification Zone. He knew the 
range of our radar. He knew the range of our radio. And he knew the range 
of the surrounding units' radio and radar." 153 

However, Donovan's knowledge of Oswald's connection to the top-secret 
U-2 was clearly off limits for his Warren Commission questioners. Their 
avoidance of the U-2 puzzled Donovan. Wasn't Oswald's possible access to 
top-secret U-2 information a critical issue to probe in relation to his defec- 
tion? Donovan told author John Newman years later that, at the end of his 
testimony, he asked a Warren Commission lawyer, "Don't you want to know 
anything about the U-2?" The lawyer said, "We asked you exactly what we 
wanted to know from you and we asked you everything we wanted for now 
and that is all. And if there is anything else we want to ask you, we will." 
Donovan asked a fellow witness who also knew Oswald's U-2 connection, 
"Did they ask you about the U-2?" He said, "No, not a thing." 154 

On May 1, 1960, six months after Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, 
a U-2 was shot down by the Soviets for the first time. The downing of the U- 
2, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, wrecked the Paris summit meeting 
between President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev. Gary Powers later 
raised the question whether his plane may not have been shot down as a 
result of information Oswald handed over to the Soviets. 155 Powers's ques- 
tion was at least reasonable. It reinforces the case that Oswald's volunteer- 
ing all the information he had as a Marine radar specialist to the Soviets was 
an apparently criminal act. 

Yet when Oswald returned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after working 
for over a year at a Soviet factory in Minsk, he was welcomed back by Amer- 
ican officials with open arms. Not only did the United States make no move 
to prosecute him, but the embassy gave him a loan to return to the country 
he had betrayed. 156 The toleration of Oswald's apparent treason extended to 
his later obtaining a new passport overnight. On June 25, 1963, Oswald was 
miraculously issued a passport in New Orleans twenty-four hours after his 
application. 157 He identified his destination as the Soviet Union. 158 

After analyzing this strange history in her classic work on the Warren 

Commission, Accessories after the Fact, Sylvia Meagher concluded: "Deci- 
sion after decision, the [State] Department removed every obstacle before 
Oswald — a defector and would-be expatriate, self-declared enemy of his 
native country, self-proclaimed discloser of classified military information, 
and later self-appointed propagandist for Fidel Castro — on his path from 
Minsk to Dallas." 159 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


The process would, of course, be reversed in Dallas. There Oswald would 
be arrested and killed quickly, before he could say what he knew of the pres- 
ident's murder. In Dallas whatever light Oswald might cast on the assassi- 
nation would be switched at once into darkness. 

The Warren Commission dealt with the U.S. government's odd toleration 
of the apparently treasonous Oswald, first of all, by a selective reading of 
his history. When the authors of the Warren Report mentioned Oswald's 
work in the Marine Corps as a radar operator, they neglected to point out 
that the future defector had a "Crypto" clearance, which was higher than 
"Top Secret," and that his work immersed him in information about the 
CIA's super-secret U-2 flights. 160 By omitting such facts, the government's 
story was able to sidestep questions arising from Oswald's offer of U-2 infor- 
mation to the Soviet Union, his defection to that Cold War enemy, and his 
wondrous acceptance back into the good graces of the U.S. government. 

According to the Warren Report, Lee Harvey Oswald had been a lone 
assassin in the making for years, "moved by an overriding hostility to his 
environment." 161 In the government's story, Oswald became a defector to 
Russia, a Fair Play For Cuba Committee demonstrator in New Orleans, and 
a presidential assassin for psychological reasons: "He does not appear to 
have been able to establish meaningful relationships with other people. He 
was perpetually disconnected with the world around him. Long before the 
assassination he expressed his hatred for American society and acted in 
protest against it." 162 The Warren Report portrayed Oswald as a young man 
alienated from society who then became an angry Marxist, abandoned his 
country, and killed its president. In the Report's conclusion on Oswald's moti- 
vation, the commission attributed his assassin's impulse to a megalomania 
tinged with Marxism: "He sought for himself a place in history — a role as the 

'great man' who would be recognized as having been in advance of his times. 
His commitment to Marxism and communism appears to have been another 
important factor in his motivation." 163 

If we turn from Warren Report psychology to Cold War history, why was 
the ex-Marine Lee Harvey Oswald not arrested and charged a year and a 
half before the assassination when he came back to the United States from 
the Soviet Union, where he had announced at the American Embassy in 
Moscow that he would hand over military secrets (about U-2 flights) to the 
Soviets? Whereas in Dallas Oswald would be arrested and murdered before 
we knew it, on his preceding odyssey as a traitor in and out of Russia and 
back to the United States he overcame government barriers with an almost 
supernatural ease. What was the secret of Oswald's immunity to prosecu- 
tion for having criminally betrayed the United States at the height of the Cold 
War? How did this unrepentant enemy of his country merit treatment as a 
prodigal son, embraced by his government with financial help and preferen- 
tial passport rulings while he continued to proclaim allegiance to the USSR 
and Cuba? 

A solution to the mystery was suggested by former CIA agent Victor Mar- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

chetti, who resigned from the Agency in disillusionment after being execu- 
tive assistant to the Deputy Director. The CIA fought a legal battle to sup- 
press Marchetti's book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. In regard to 
Oswald, Marchetti told author Anthony Summers of a CIA-connected Naval 
intelligence program in 1959, the same year Oswald defected to the USSR: 
"At the time, in 1959, the United States was having real difficulty in acquir- 
ing information out of the Soviet Union; the technical systems had, of course, 
not developed to the point that they are at today, and we were resorting to 
all sorts of activities. One of these activities was an ONI [Office of Naval 
Intelligence] program which involved three dozen, maybe forty, young men 
who were made to appear disenchanted, poor American youths who had 
become turned off and wanted to see what communism was all about. Some 
of these people lasted only a few weeks. They were sent into the Soviet Union, 
or into eastern Europe, with the specific intention the Soviets would pick 
them up and 'double' them if they suspected them of being U.S. agents, or 
recruit them as KGB agents. They were trained at various naval installations 
both here and abroad, but the operation was being run out of Nag's Head, 
North Carolina." 164 

The counterintelligence program described by Marchetti dovetails with 
the Oswald story. It provides an explanation for the U.S. government's indul- 
gence of his behavior. That Oswald was in fact a participant in such a pro- 
gram was the belief of James Botelho, his former roommate in Santa Ana. 
Botelho, who later became a California judge, stated in an interview with 
Mark Lane that Oswald's Communism was a pose. Botelho said: "I'm very 
conservative now [in 1978] and I was at least as conservative at that time. 
Oswald was not a Communist or a Marxist. If he was I would have taken 
violent action against him and so would many of the other Marines in the 
unit." 165 

Judge Botelho said Oswald's "defection" was nothing but a U.S. intelli- 
gence ploy: "I knew Oswald was not a Communist and was, in fact, anti- 
Soviet. Then, when no real investigation occurred at the base [after Oswald's 
presence in the Soviet Union was made public], I was sure that Oswald was 
on an intelligence assignment in Russia . . . Two civilians dropped in [at Santa 
Ana], asked a few questions, took no written statements, and recorded no 
interviews with witnesses. It was the most casual of investigations. It was a 
cover-investigation so that it could be said there had been an investigation . . . 
Oswald, it was said, was the only Marine ever to defect from his country to 
another country, a Communist country, during peacetime. That was a major 
event. When the Marine Corps and American intelligence decided not to 
probe the reasons for the 'defection,' I knew then what I know now: Oswald 
was on an assignment in Russia for American intelligence." 166 

As we continue to reflect on John Kennedy's vision at American Univer- 
sity, which sought a way of peace, we can foresee the falling stars of lives that 
would be brought down with the death of that vision. Among them would 
be Lee Harvey Oswald, a young man on assignment in Russia for American 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


intelligence. Oswald's trajectory, which would end up meeting Kennedy's in 
Dallas, was guided not by the heavens or fate or even, as the Warren Report 
would have it, by a disturbed psyche. Oswald was guided by intelligence 
handlers. Lee Harvey Oswald was a pawn in the game. He was a minor piece 
in the deadly game Kennedy wanted to end. Oswald was being moved square 
by square across a giant board stretching from Atsugi to Moscow to Minsk 
to Dallas. For the sake of victory in the Cold War, the hands moving Oswald 
were prepared to sacrifice him and any other piece on the board. However, 
there was one player, John Kennedy, who no longer believed in the game and 
was threatening to turn over the board. 

elf-examination, Kennedy said at American University, was the founda- 
tion of peace. In that speech he asked Americans to examine four basic 
attitudes in ourselves that were critical obstacles to peace. 

"First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us 
think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, 
defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable — that 
mankind is doomed — that we are gripped by forces we cannot control." 

I remember well the United States' warring spirit when President Kennedy 
said those words. Our deeply rooted prejudice, cultivated by years of prop- 
aganda, was that peace with Communists was impossible. The dogmas in 
our Cold War catechism ruled out peace with the enemy: You can't trust the 
Russians. Communism could undermine the very nature of freedom. One 
had to fight fire with fire against such an enemy. In the nuclear age, that 
meant being prepared to destroy the world to save it from Communism. 
Sophisticated analysts called it "the nuclear dilemma." 

With the acceptance of such attitudes, despair of peace was a given. 
Thomas Merton wrote of this Cold War mentality: "The great danger is that 
under the pressures of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relax- 
ation and new crisis, the people of the world will come to accept gradually 
the idea of war, the idea of submission to total power, and the abdication of 
reason, spirit and individual conscience. The great peril of the cold war is the 
progressive deadening of conscience." 167 As Kennedy observed, in such an 
atmosphere peace seemed impossible, as in fact it was, unless underlying atti- 
tudes changed. But how to change them? 

Kennedy suggested a step-by-step way out of our despair. It corresponded 
in the world of diplomacy to what Gandhi had called "experiments in truth." 
Kennedy said we could overcome despair by focusing "on a series of concrete 
actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned." 
In spite of our warring ideologies, peace could become visible again by our 
acting in response to particular, concrete problems that stood in its way. 

As JFK was learning himself from his intense dialogue with Khrushchev, 
the practice of seeking peace through definable goals drew one irresistibly 
deeper. Violent ideologies then fell away in the process of realizing peace. 

42 JFK and the Unspeakable 

"Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable," he 
said in reference to his own experience. "By defining our goal more clearly, 
by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples 
to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it." 

The second point in Kennedy's theme was that self-examination was 
needed with respect to our opponent: "Let us examine our attitude toward 
the Soviet Union." We needed to examine the root cause of our despair, 
namely, our attitude toward our enemy. 

Kennedy cited anti- American propaganda from a Soviet military text and 
observed, "It is sad to read these Soviet statements — to realize the extent of 
the gulf between us." 

Then with his listeners' defenses down, he brought the theme of self- 
examination home again: "But it is also a warning — a warning to the Amer- 
ican people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a 
distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, 
accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an 
exchange of threats." 

It was a summary of our own Cold War perspective. The key question 
was not: What about the Russians? It was rather: What about our own atti- 
tude that can't get beyond "What about the Russians"? The point was again 
not the speck in our neighbor's eye but the log in our own. 

Kennedy's next sentence was a nonviolent distinction between a system 
and its people: "No government or social system is so evil that its people 
must be considered as lacking in virtue. " With these words President John 
Kennedy was echoing a theme of Pope John XXIII's papal encyclical Pacem 
in Terris ("Peace on Earth"), published two months earlier on April 11, 1963. 

In response to the threat of nuclear war, Pope John had issued his hope- 
ful letter to the world just before he took leave of it. He died of cancer one 
week before Kennedy's speech. In Pacem in Terris Pope John drew a careful 
distinction between "false philosophical teachings regarding the nature, ori- 
gin and destiny of the universe and of humanity" and "historical movements 
that have economic, social, cultural or political ends, . . . even when these 

movements have originated from those teachings and have drawn and still 
draw inspiration therefrom." Pope John said that while such teachings 

remained the same, the movements arising from them underwent changes 

"of a profound nature." 168 

The pope then struck down what seemed at the time to be insurmountable 
barriers to dialogue and collaboration with a militantly atheist opponent: 
"Who can deny that those movements, insofar as they conform to the dic- 
tates of right reason and are interpreters of the lawful aspirations of the 
human person, contain elements that are positive and deserving of approval? 

"It can happen, then, that meetings for the attainment of some practical 
end, which formerly were deemed inopportune or unproductive, might now 
or in the future be considered opportune and useful." 169 

The pope's actions were ahead of his words. He was already in friendly 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


communication with Nikita Khrushchev, sending him appeals for peace and 

religious freedom. His unofficial emissary to the Soviet premier, Norman 
Cousins, had delivered a Russian translation of Pacem in Terris personally 
to Khrushchev, even before the encyclical was issued to the rest of the 
world. 170 Khrushchev displayed proudly to Communist Party co-workers the 
papal medallion that Pope John had sent him. 171 

John Kennedy took heart from the elder John's faith that peace was made 
possible through such trust and communication with an enemy. Kennedy 

knew from Cousins the details of his meetings with Khrushchev on behalf of 
Pope John. Kennedy sent along with Cousins backdoor messages of his own 
to the Soviet premier, as Cousins describes in his book The Improbable Tri- 
umvirate: John R Kennedy, Pope John, Nikita Khrushchev. Something was 
going on here behind the scenes of Christian-Communist conflict that was 
breathtaking in the then-dominant context of Armageddon theologies. 

So it was natural for John Kennedy to speak at American University with 
empathy about the suffering of the Soviet Union. "No nation in the history 

of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the course of 
the Second World War," he said. "At least 20 million lost their lives. Count- 
less millions of homes and farms were burned or sacked. A third of the 
nation's territory, including nearly two thirds of its industrial base, was 
turned into a wasteland — a loss equivalent to the devastation of this coun- 
try east of Chicago." 

The suffering that the Russian people had already experienced was 
Kennedy's backdrop for addressing the evil of nuclear war, as it would affect 
simultaneously the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and the rest of the world: "All we have 
built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours." 

"In short," he said, "both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet 
Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace 
and in halting the arms race." He added, in an ironic play on Woodrow Wil- 
son's slogan for entering World War I: "If we cannot end now our differ- 
ences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity." 

John Kennedy, portrayed by unsympathetic writers as a man with few 
feelings, had broken through to the feelings of our Cold War enemy, not only 
the ruler Nikita Khrushchev but an entire people decimated in World War II. 
What about the Russians? Kennedy's answer was that when we felt the 
enemy's pain, peace was not only possible. It was necessary. It was as neces- 
sary as the life of one's own family, seen truly for the first time. The vision 
that John F. Kennedy had been given was radically simple: Our side and their 
side were the same side. 

"For, in the final analysis," Kennedy said, summing up his vision of inter- 
dependence, "our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small 
planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And 
we are all mortal." 

If we could accept such compassion for the enemy, Kennedy's third, most 
crucial appeal for self-examination could become more possible for his Amer- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

ican audience. "Third: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the cold war, 
remembering that we are not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debat- 
ing points." 

When the missile crisis was resolved, the president stringently avoided, 
and ordered his staff to avoid, any talk of victory or defeat concerning 
Khrushchev. The only victory was avoiding war. Yet for Khrushchev's crit- 
ics in the Communist world who could tolerate no retreat from the capital- 
ist enemy, the Soviet premier had suffered a humiliating defeat. For that 
reason alone, Kennedy believed, there must never be another missile crisis, 
for it would only repeat pressures for terrible choices that had very nearly 
resulted in total war. 

"Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must 
avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a 
humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the 
nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy — or of 
a collective death- wish for the world." 

Kennedy moved on to concrete steps, already in progress, toward realizing 
his vision of world peace. He announced first the decision made by Macmil- 
lan, Khrushchev, and himself to hold discussions in Moscow on a test ban 
treaty. He then proclaimed his unilateral initiative, a suspension of atmos- 
pheric tests, with the explicit hope that it would foster trust with the enemy: 

"To make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on the matter [of 
a comprehensive test ban treaty], I now declare that the United States does 
not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states 
do not do so. We will not be the first to resume." 

For those who knew the strength of will behind Kennedy's vision, there 
was something either inspiring or threatening in his next statement of "our 
primary long-range interest": "general and complete disarmament — designed 
to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the 
new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms." As we shall 
see, Kennedy meant what he said, and U.S. intelligence agencies knew it. So 
did the corporate power brokers who had clashed with him the year before 
in the steel crisis, an overlooked chapter in the Kennedy presidency that we 
will explore. The military-industrial complex did not receive his swords-into- 
plowshares vision as good news. 

In the fourth and final section of his plea for self-examination, JFK 
appealed to his American audience to examine the quality of life within our 
own borders: "Let us examine our attitude toward peace and freedom here 
at home ... In too many of our cities today, the peace is not secure because 
freedom is incomplete." 

He would say more on this subject the following night in his ground- 
breaking civil rights speech. On the day after President Kennedy spoke at 
American University, Alabama governor George Wallace let the president's 
will prevail and backed away from blocking a door at the University of Ala- 
bama, allowing two black students to register. That night in a televised 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


address to the nation, Kennedy described the suffering of black Americans 
under racism with a strength of feeling that recalled his compassion the day 
before for the Russian people in World War II: 

"The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the 
Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of complet- 
ing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, 
one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance 
of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unem- 
ployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life 
expectance which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half 
as much. 

"We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scrip- 
tures and is as clear as the American Constitution." 172 

In his American University address, after Kennedy identified "peace and 
freedom here at home" as a critical dimension of world peace, he went on 
to identify peace itself as a fundamental human right: "And is not peace, in 
the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights — the right to live out 
our lives without fear of devastation — the right to breathe air as nature pro- 
vided it — the right of future generations to a healthy existence?" 

Kennedy concluded his "peace speech" with a promise whose beginning 
fulfillment in the next five months would confirm his own death sentence: 
"Confident and unafraid, we labor on — not toward a strategy of annihilation 
but toward a strategy of peace." 

John Kennedy's greatest statement of his turn toward peace was his Amer- 
ican University address. In an ironic turn of events, the Soviet Union became 
its principal venue. JFK's identification with the Russian people's suffering 
penetrated their government's defenses far more effectively than any missile 
could have. Sorensen described the speech's impact on the other side of the 
Cold War: 

"The full text of the speech was published in the Soviet press. Still more 
striking was the fact that it was heard as well as read throughout the U.S.S.R. 
After fifteen years of almost uninterrupted jamming of Western broadcasts, 
by means of a network of over three thousand transmitters and at an annual 
cost of several hundred million dollars, the Soviets jammed only one para- 
graph of the speech when relayed by the Voice of America in Russian (that 
dealing with their 'baseless' claims of U.S. aims) — then did not jam any of it 
upon rebroadcast — and then suddenly stopped jamming all Western broad- 
casts, including even Russian-language newscasts on foreign affairs. Equally 
suddenly they agreed in Vienna to the principle of inspection by the Inter- 
national Atomic Energy Agency to make certain that Agency's reactors were 
used for peaceful purposes. And equally suddenly the outlook for some kind 
of test-ban agreement turned from hopeless to hopeful." 173 

Nikita Khrushchev was deeply moved. He told test-ban negotiator Averell 
Harriman that Kennedy had given "the greatest speech by any American 
President since Roosevelt." 174 Khrushchev responded by proposing to 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Kennedy that they now consider a limited test ban encompassing the atmos- 
phere, outer space, and water, so that the disputed question of inspections 
would no longer arise. He also suggested a nonaggression pact between 
NATO and the Warsaw Pact to create a "fresh international climate." 175 

Kennedy's speech was received less favorably in his own country. The New 
York Times reported his government's skepticism: "Generally there was not 
much optimism in official Washington that the President's conciliation 
address at American University would produce agreement on a test ban treaty 
or anything else." 176 In contrast to the Soviet media, which were electrified 
by the speech, the U.S. media ignored or downplayed it. For the first time 
Americans had less opportunity to read and hear their president's words than 
did the Russian people. A turnabout was occurring in the world on different 
levels. Whereas nuclear disarmament had suddenly become feasible, 
Kennedy's position in his own government had become precarious. Kennedy 
was turning faster than was safe for a Cold War leader. 

After the American University address, John Kennedy and Nikita 
Khrushchev began to act like competitors in peace. They were both turning. 
However, Kennedy's rejection of Cold War politics was considered treason- 
ous by forces in his own government. In that context, which Kennedy knew 
well, the American University address was a profile in courage with lethal 
consequences. President Kennedy's June 10, 1963, call for an end to the Cold 
War, five and one-half months before his assassination, anticipates Dr. King's 
courage in his April 4, 1967, Riverside Church address calling for an end to 
the Vietnam War, exactly one year before his assassination. Each of those 
transforming speeches was a prophetic statement provoking the reward a 
prophet traditionally receives. John Kennedy's American University address 
was to his death in Dallas as Martin Luther King's Riverside Church address 
was to his death in Memphis. 

n June 13, 1962, Lee Harvey Oswald returned to the United States after 
his defection to the Soviet Union. He was not met by arrest and prose- 
cution. Nor was he confronted in any way by the government he had 
betrayed. Instead Oswald was welcomed by order of the U.S. government, 
as he and his Russian wife Marina disembarked with their infant daughter 
June from the ocean liner Maasdam in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Warren 

Report tells us that, on the recommendation of the State Department, the 
Oswalds were greeted at the dock by Spas T. Raikin, a representative of the 
Traveler's Aid Society. 177 The Warren Report does not mention, however, 
that Raikin was at the same time secretary-general of the American Friends 
of the Anti-Bolshevik Nations, an anti-communist organization with exten- 
sive intelligence connections 178 — like the American government, an unlikely 
source of support for a traitor. The Warren Report does say that, with Spas 
T. Raikin's help, the Oswald family passed smoothly through immigration 
and customs. 

In the summer of 1962 the Oswalds settled in Fort Worth, Texas. They 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


were welcomed by a local White Russian community characterized by its 
pronounced anti-communist view of the world. Lee was befriended by 
George de Mohrenschildt, the son of a czarist official. "The Baron," as he 
liked to be called, traveled around the world as a geologist, consulting for 
Texas oil companies and doubling as an intelligence asset. In 1957 the CIA's 
Richard Helms wrote a memo saying that de Mohrenschildt, after making a 
trip as a consultant in Yugoslavia, provided the CIA with "foreign intelli- 
gence which was promptly disseminated to other federal agencies in 10 sep- 
arate reports." 179 De Mohrenschildt would admit in a 1977 interview that he 
had been given a go-ahead to meet Oswald by J. Walton Moore, the Dallas 
CIA Domestic Contacts Service chief. 180 

In that March 29, 1977, interview, the last he would ever give, George de 
Mohrenschildt told author Edward Jay Epstein he had "on occasion done 
favors" since the early 1950s for government officials connected with the 
CIA. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. The CIA contacts then helped 
de Mohrenschildt arrange profitable business connections overseas. 

De Mohrenschildt said that in late 1961 he had met in Dallas with the 
CIA's J. Walton Moore, who began to tell him about "an ex-American 
Marine who had worked in an electronics factory in Minsk for the past year 
and in whom there was 'interest.'" 181 The Baron had grown up in Minsk, as 
Moore seemed to know before being told. The ex-Marine, Moore said, 
would be returning to the Dallas area. De Mohrenschildt felt he was being 

In the summer of 1962, de Mohrenschildt said, he was handed Lee Har- 
vey Oswald's address in Fort Worth by "one of Moore's associates," who 
suggested that de Mohrenschildt meet Oswald. De Mohrenschildt then 
phoned Moore to confirm such a mission and set up another mutually ben- 
eficial relationship. He told Moore he would appreciate help from the U.S. 
embassy in Haiti in arranging approval by Haitian dictator "Papa Doc" 
Duvalier for an oil exploration deal. Moore then gave de Mohrenschildt the 
go-ahead to befriend the Oswalds, which de Mohrenschildt promptly did 
with the firm understanding that he was carrying out the CIA's wishes. "I 
would never have contacted Oswald in a million years if Moore had not 
sanctioned it," de Mohrenschildt said in his final interview. "Too much was 
at stake." 182 

On October 7, 1962, nine days before the Cuban Missile Crisis began, de 
Mohrenschildt urged his new friend Lee Harvey Oswald to move to Dallas, 
where more of the Russian immigrants lived. Oswald took him so seriously 
that the next day he quit his job at a Fort Worth welding company and made 
the move. 183 De Mohrenschildt then became Oswald's mentor in Dallas. The 
Baron's wife and daughter said it was he who organized Oswald's securing 
a new job, four days after his move, with a Dallas graphic arts company, 
Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall. 184 The official record is that Louise Latham of the 
Texas Employment Commission sent Oswald to the firm. Author Henry Hurt 
interviewed Ms. Latham, who denied that de Mohrenschildt got the job for 
Oswald. 185 

48 JFK and the Unspeakable 

Whoever was responsible for Oswald's immediate hiring, it was a remark- 
able achievement. Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall, described by the Warren Commis- 
sion simply as "a commercial advertising photography firm," 186 had 
contracts with the U.S. Army Map Service. Its classified work connected with 
Oswald's history as an apparent traitor. From interviews with Jaggars-Chiles- 
Stovall employees, Hurt concluded, "Part of the work appears to have been 
related to the top secret U-2 missions, some of which were then making 
flights over Cuba." 187 Four days before President Kennedy was shown U-2 
photos that confirmed Soviet missiles in Cuba, Lee Harvey Oswald reported 
to work at a defense contractor that was apparently involved in logistics sup- 
port for the U-2 mission. According to Oswald's co-workers, some of them 
were setting type for Cuban place names to go on maps 188 — probably for the 
same spy planes whose radar secrets the ex-Marine had already offered to the 
Soviet Union. Oswald was once again, through the intervention of under- 
cover angels, defying the normal laws of government security barriers. 

As it turned out, in mid-March 1963 George de Mohrenschildt did receive 
a Haitian government contract for $285, 000. 189 In April he left Dallas, and 
in May he met in Washington, D.C., with CIA and U.S. Army intelligence 
contacts to further his Haitian connections. 190 De Mohrenschildt then 
departed for Haiti. He never saw Oswald again. 

None of George de Mohrenschildt's extensive U.S. intelligence connec- 
tions are mentioned in the Warren Report, which describes him vaguely as 
"a highly individualistic person of varied interests" who befriended 
Oswald. 191 Relying on U.S. intelligence for its questions and answers, the 
Report concludes concerning George and his wife, Jeanne de Mohrenschildt: 
"Neither the FBI, CIA, nor any witness contacted by the Commission has 
provided any information linking the de Mohrenschildts to subversive or 
extremist organizations." 192 

New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in his investigation of the 
Kennedy assassination asked a different kind of question about George de 
Mohrenschildt. Garrison identified de Mohrenschildt as one of Oswald's CIA 
"baby-sitters," "assigned to protect or otherwise see to the general welfare 
of a particular individual." 193 Garrison concluded from his conversations 
with George and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt that the Baron was in some sense 
an unwitting baby-sitter, without foreknowledge of what was in store for 
the "baby" in his custody. Both de Mohrenschildts, Garrison said, were vig- 
orous in their insistence to him that Oswald had been the assassination scape- 
goat. 194 

On March 29, 1977, three hours after his revelation of the CIA's sanc- 
tioning his contact with Oswald, George de Mohrenschildt was found shot 
to death in the house where he was staying in Manalapan, Florida. His death 
also occurred on the day Gaeton Fonzi, an investigator for the House Select 
Committee on Assassinations, left his card with de Mohrenschildt's daugh- 
ter and told her he would be calling her father that evening for an appoint- 
ment to question him. Soon after de Mohrenschildt took the card and put it 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


in his pocket, he went upstairs, then apparently put the barrel of a .20-gauge 
shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. 195 

Though he had been Oswald's CIA-approved shepherd in Dallas, George 
de Mohrenschildt had no "need to know," and thus probably no under- 
standing in advance of the scapegoat role that lay ahead for his young friend. 
In the years after John Kennedy and Lee Oswald were gunned down, the de 
Mohrenschildts seemed to grow in remorse for the evil in which they had 
become enmeshed. Jim Garrison said, "I was particularly affected by the 
depth of their unhappiness at what had been done not only to John Kennedy 
but to Lee Oswald as well." 196 George de Mohrenschildt was another casu- 
alty of Dallas. Like Oswald, he, too, was a pawn in the game. 

resident Kennedy's fourth Bay of Pigs toward the coup d'etat he saw as 

possible was the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that he and Nikita 
Khrushchev signed. 

In the months before his American University address, Kennedy had 
become increasingly pessimistic about achieving a test ban. Domestic oppo- 
sition was rising. Liberal Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller of New 
York denounced the idea of a test ban. Senate Republican leader Everett 
Dirksen said of Kennedy's efforts to gain one, "This has become an exercise 
not in negotiation but in give-away. " The Joint Chiefs of Staff declared them- 
selves "opposed to a comprehensive ban under almost any terms." 197 

In Geneva the U.S.-Soviet negotiations were at a deadlock over the ques- 
tion of on-site inspections. Meanwhile, the Atomic Energy Commission was 
pushing Kennedy to schedule another series of atmospheric tests. The U.S. 
Congress had similar views. Kennedy supporter Senator John O. Pastore of 
Rhode Island, chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, wrote 
the president that even if the current U.S. test ban proposal were accepted by 
the Soviets, "on the basis of informal discussions with other Senate leaders 

I am afraid that ratification of such a treaty could only be obtained with the 
greatest difficulty. " Moreover, Pastore added, "I personally have reservations 
as to whether such a treaty would be in the best interests of the United States 
at this time." 198 

At his March 21, 1963, news conference, the president was asked if he still 
had hopes of arriving at a test-ban agreement. He replied doggedly, "Well, 
my hopes are dimmed, but nevertheless, I still hope." 199 Only three weeks 
before the American University address, he answered another test-ban ques- 
tion with even less optimism, "No, I'm not hopeful, I'm not hopeful . . . We 
have tried to get an agreement [with the Soviets] on all the rest of it and then 
come to the question of the number of inspections, but we were unable to get 
that. So I would say I am not hopeful at all." 200 

He felt, nevertheless, the time to push for a treaty was right then: "I have 
said from the beginning that [it] seemed to me that the pace of events was 
such in the world that unless we could get an agreement now, I would think 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the chance of getting it would be comparatively slight. We are therefore going 
to continue to push very hard in May and June in every forum to see if we 
can get an agreement." 201 

So while not hopeful, Kennedy was more determined than ever to turn 
the corner on a test ban treaty. It was then, on June 10, that he launched the 
peace initiative of his American University address, which broke through 
Soviet defenses. In response, Khrushchev made preparations to welcome the 
U.S. test-ban negotiators to Moscow. Kennedy saw the moment was ripe for 
at least a partial test ban, bypassing the negotiators' impasse on inspections. 
At this point Glenn T. Seaborg, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commis- 
sion, noted in his journal that whereas JFK had been dedicated to a test ban 
since the beginning of his presidency, "Now, he decided to really go for it\" 202 

He did so at a personal cost. As we have seen, the response to the Amer- 
ican University address was much warmer on the Soviet side than the Amer- 
ican. The Joint Chiefs and CIA were adamantly opposed to Kennedy's turn 
toward peace. Cold War influences so dominated the U.S. Congress that the 
president felt getting Senate ratification of a test ban agreement would be 
"almost in the nature of a miracle," as he described the task to advisers. 203 
That process, miraculous or not, was engineered humanly by a president 
committed at all costs to seeing it accomplished. 

Kennedy named Averell Harriman, former ambassador to the U.S.S.R., 
his top negotiator in the Moscow talks. Known as a tough bargainer, Harri- 
man was liked and respected by the Russians. They saw his appointment as 
a sign of the president's seriousness in wanting a test-ban agreement. 

Kennedy personally prepared the negotiators. He emphasized the impor- 
tance of their mission — perhaps a last chance to stop the spread of testing and 
radioactive fallout. If they were successful, it would mean a concrete step 
toward mutual trust with the Russians. In both literal and symbolic senses, 
they stood to achieve a more peaceful atmosphere in the world. 204 Their head 
negotiator would be, in effect, not Harriman but the president himself. He 
would stay in regular communication with them from Washington. He 
underlined confidentiality. No one outside a tight circle of officials person- 
ally approved by him was to know any of the details. 205 

During the negotiations, Kennedy spent hours in the cramped White 
House Situation Room, editing the U.S. position as if he were at the Moscow 
table himself. Soviet ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin was astounded at the 
president's command of every stage of the process. "Harriman would just get 
on the phone with Kennedy," he said, "and things would be decided. It was 
amazing." 206 

On July 25, 1963, when the final text was ready, Harriman phoned 
Kennedy and read it to him twice. The president said, "Okay, great!" Har- 
riman returned to the conference room and initialed the Limited Test Ban 
Treaty, outlawing nuclear tests "in the atmosphere, beyond its limits, includ- 
ing outer space, or under water, including territorial waters or high seas." 207 

The next night President Kennedy made a television appeal to the nation 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


for support of the test ban treaty. Against the advice of Secretary of State 
Dean Rusk, Kennedy had decided to take the issue of ratification immediately 
to the people. He wanted to do everything he could to turn public opinion 
around as quickly as possible. "We've got to hit the country while the coun- 
try's hot," he told Rusk, "That's the only thing that makes any impression 
to these god-damned Senators . . . They'll move as the country moves." 208 

In his speech Kennedy said, "This treaty is not the millennium . . . But it 
is an important first step — a step toward peace — a step toward reason — a 
step away from war." 209 

As in the American University address, he opened up a vision beyond the 
Cold War, that of an era of mutual peacemaking. "Nuclear test ban negoti- 
ations have long been a symbol of East- West disagreement." Perhaps "this 
treaty can also be a symbol — if it can symbolize the end of one era and the 
beginning of another — if both sides can by this treaty gain confidence and 
experience in peaceful collaboration." 

He reiterated the consequences of a nuclear war: "A full-scale nuclear 
exchange, lasting less than 60 minutes, with the weapons now in existence, 
could wipe out more than 300 million Americans, Europeans, and Russians, 
as well as untold numbers elsewhere." He quoted Chairman Khrushchev: 
"The survivors would envy the dead." 

Besides helping to prevent war, he said, the test ban treaty "can be a step 
towards freeing the world from the fears and dangers of radioactive fallout." 
He called to mind "the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in 
their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs . . . 

this is not a natural health hazard — and it is not a statistical issue. The loss 
of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby — who may be 
born long after we are gone — should be of concern to us all. Our children 
and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be 
indifferent. " 

Kennedy's sense of the vulnerability of children was again the force behind 
some of his most deeply felt words: " [This treaty] is particularly for our chil- 
dren and our grandchildren, and they have no lobby here in Washington." 

After reminding his listeners of "the familiar places of danger and con- 
flict" — Cuba, Southeast Asia, Berlin, and all around the globe — he concluded 
with the expression of a deep hope, less than four months before his assas- 

"But now, for the first time in many years, the path of peace may be open. 
No one can be certain what the future will bring. No one can say whether 
the time has come for an easing of the struggle. But history and our own 
conscience will judge us harsher if we do not now make every effort to test 
our hopes by action, and this is the place to begin. According to the ancient 
Chinese proverb, 'A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single 
step . ' 

"My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, step 
back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this 
land, at this time, took the first step." 

Kennedy was fiercely determined but not optimistic that the test ban treaty 
would be ratified by the defense-conscious Senate. It was on August 7, 1963, 
that he made his comment to advisers that a near-miracle was needed. He 
said that if a Senate vote were held right then it would fall far short of the 
necessary two-thirds. 210 Larry O'Brien, his liaison aide with the Congress, 
confirmed the accuracy of the president's estimate. Congressional mail was 
running about fifteen to one against a test ban. 211 

Kennedy initiated a whirlwind public education campaign on the treaty, 
coordinated by Norman Cousins. The president told an August 7 meeting of 
key organizers that they were taking on a very tough job and had his total 
support. Led by Cousins and calling themselves the Citizens Committee, the 
group mounted a national campaign for Senate ratification. The National 
Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, which had been formed in 1958 to 
dramatize the dangers of nuclear testing, played a key role in the campaign. 
Kennedy and Cousins also successfully sought help from the National Coun- 
cil of Churches, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Catholic 
Archbishop John Wright of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Richard Cushing of 
Boston, union leaders, sympathetic business executives, leading scientists and 
academics, Nobel Laureates, and, at a special meeting with the president, 
the editors of the nation's leading women's magazines, who gave their enthu- 
siastic support. As the campaign grew, public opinion began to shift. By the 
end of August, the tide of congressional mail had gone from fifteen to one 
against a test ban to three to two against. The president and his committee 
of activists hoped that in a month public opinion would be on their side. 

In the meantime, they were bucking the military-industrial complex, 
which had become alarmed at the president's sudden turn toward peace and 
his alliance with peace activists in support of the test ban. The August 5, 
1963, U.S. News and World Report carried a major article headlined, "Is 
U.S. Giving up in the Arms Race?" The article cited "many authorities in 
the military establishment, who now are silenced," as thinking that the 
Kennedy administration's "new strategy adds up to a type of intentional and 
one-sided disarmament." 212 

The alarm was sounded even more loudly in the August 12 U.S. News 
with an article headlined, "If Peace Does Come — What Happens to Busi- 
ness?" The article began: 

"This question once again is being raised: If peace does come, what hap- 
pens to business? Will the bottom drop out if defense spending is cut? 

"There is a lull in the cold war. Before the U.S. Senate is a treaty calling 
for an end to testing of nuclear weapons in the air or under water. A nonag- 
gression agreement is being proposed by Russia's Khrushchev. 

"Talk of peace is catching on. Before shouting, however, it is important to 
bear some other things in mind. " 

U.S. News went on to reassure its readers that defense spending would be 

A Cold Warrior Turns 


sustained by such Cold War factors as Cuba remaining "a Russian base, 
occupied by Russian troops" and "the guerrilla war in South Vietnam" 
where "the Red Chinese, in an ugly mood, are capable of starting a big war 
in Asia at any time." 213 

However, an insider could have asked, what would it mean to defense 
contractors if Kennedy extended his peacemaking to Cuba and Vietnam? 

The president's peacemaking had moved beyond any effective military 
control or even monitoring. In the test-ban talks, the military weren't in the 

loop. Kennedy had made a quick end run around them to negotiate the 
treaty. As JFK biographer Richard Reeves observed, "By moving so swiftly 
on the Moscow negotiations, Kennedy politically outflanked his own military 
on the most important military question of the time." 214 

Kennedy pointed out to Cousins that he and Khrushchev had come to 
have more in common with each other than either had with his own military 
establishment: "One of the ironic things about this entire situation is that 
Mr. Khrushchev and I occupy approximately the same political positions 
inside our governments. He would like to prevent a nuclear war but is under 
severe pressure from his hard-line crowd, which interprets every move in 
that direction as appeasement. I've got similar problems." 215 

Almost four decades later, Nikita Khrushchev's son Sergei would provide 
a wistful footnote to John Kennedy's political empathy with his father. On 
February 4, 2001, Sergei Khrushchev, by then a senior fellow in international 
studies at Brown University, in the course of commenting on the film Thir- 
teen Days (a dramatization of the Cuban Missile Crisis), wrote in The New 
York Times: 

"A great deal changed after the [missile] crisis: A direct communication 
link between Moscow and Washington was established, nuclear testing 
(except for underground tests) was banned, and the confrontation over Berlin 
was ended. 

"But there was much that President Kennedy and my father did not suc- 
ceed in seeing through to the end. I am convinced that if history had allowed 
them another six years, they would have brought the cold war to a close 
before the end of the 1960's. I say this with good reason, because in 1963 my 
father made an official announcement to a session of the U.S.S.R. Defense 
Council that he intended to sharply reduce Soviet armed forces from 2.5 mil- 
lion men to half a million and to stop the production of tanks and other 
offensive weapons. 

"He thought that 200 to 300 intercontinental nuclear missiles made an 
attack on the Soviet Union impossible, while the money freed up by reduc- 
ing the size of the army would be put to better use in agriculture and hous- 
ing construction. 

"But fate decreed otherwise, and the window of opportunity, barely 
cracked open, closed at once. In 1963 President Kennedy was killed, and a 
year later, in October 1964, my father was removed from power. The cold 
war continued for another quarter of a century . . ," 216 

54 JFK and the Unspeakable 

Kennedy finally obtained the support of the Joint Chiefs for the test ban 
treaty, although Air Force chief LeMay said he would have opposed it had 
it not already been signed. 217 Strategic Air Command general Thomas Power 
denounced the treaty. 218 Other military leaders testified against the test ban. 
Admiral Lewis Strauss said, "I am not sure that the reduction of tensions is 
necessarily a good thing." Admiral Arthur Radford, former chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs, said, "I join with many of my former colleagues in expressing 
deep concern for our future security . . . The decision of the Senate of the 
United States in connection with this treaty will change the course of world 
history." 219 

The Citizens Committee continued its campaign in support of the test ban. 
In September public opinion polls showed a turnaround — 80 percent in favor 
of the treaty. The Senate vote on ratification was held on September 24, 1963. 
The Senate approved the test ban treaty by a vote of 80 to 19 — 14 more than 
the required two-thirds. Sorensen noted that no other single accomplishment 
in the White House gave the president greater satisfaction. 220 

Before he initiated his all-out campaign for approval of the test ban, 
Kennedy told his staff that the treaty was the most serious congressional 
issue he had faced. He was, he said, determined to win if it cost him the 1964 
election. 221 He did win. But did it cost him his life? 


Kennedy, Castro, 
and the CIA 

n his final Cold War Letter, written to Rabbi Everett Gendler in October 
1962, Thomas Merton searched for an effective way out of a Cold War 
politics that seemed destined to end in nuclear war. In that month of the 
Cuban Missile Crisis, Merton expressed a deep pessimism as well as a hope 
that no politics of war could suppress. He said that while he supported 
wholeheartedly the efforts of the peace movement to communicate new ideas 
against a tidal wave of propaganda, "at the same time I am impressed with 
the fact that all these things are little more than symbols. Thank God they 
are at least symbols, and valid ones. But where are we going to turn for some 
really effective political action? As soon as one gets involved in the machin- 
ery of politics one gets involved in its demonic futilities and in the great cur- 
rent that sweeps everything toward no one knows what." 

Yet with a Gandhian faith in the power of truth, Merton continued to 

hope: "Every slightest effort at opening up new areas of thought, every 
attempt to perceive new aspects of truth, or just a little truth, is of inestimable 
value in preparing the way for the light we cannot see." 1 

When Merton wrote those words, nothing was more opposed to the great 
current of American Cold War politics sweeping everyone to oblivion than 
was a dialogue with Fidel Castro. Anti-communism had become a dogmatic 
theology that paralyzed even the thought of such a conversation. For Amer- 
icans, the unthinkable was not the act of waging nuclear war but the act of 
talking with the Communist devil who ruled the island nation ninety miles 
from Florida, who was in fact key to stopping a nuclear holocaust. We can 
recall the reluctance of Merton's Miami correspondent, Evora Area de Sar- 
dinia, and her Cuban exile community to consider the idea of paying a ran- 
som to Castro, even to free family members who were his prisoners from the 



JFK and the Unspeakable 

Bay of Pigs. To the anti-Castro emigres in Miami, that would have meant 
compromising with the satanic incarnation of an evil, Communism, in a way 

that would violate their theology, ethics, and loyalty. At the level of national 
politics, America's Cold War theology was enforced by excommunication. 
One couldn't talk with the devil in Havana and remain in communion with 
the gods of Washington. 

No one in the United States knew this political fact of life better than Pres- 
ident John F. Kennedy. To be seen as open in any way to the thinking of Fidel 
Castro was, as Kennedy knew well, a death sentence in U.S. politics, espe- 
cially for a president. Yet that was precisely the "little truth of inestimable 
value for the light we cannot see," envisioned by Merton in his last Cold 
War Letter, that Kennedy cultivated during the final months of his life. 

For John Kennedy's fifth Bay of Pigs was in essence a return to the Bay of 
Pigs. His fifth alienation from his CIA and military advisers came from his 
risk-filled turn toward dialogue with an even more irreconcilable enemy than 
Nikita Khrushchev: Fidel Castro. 

Based on recently declassified Kennedy administration documents, 
National Security Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh has concluded in a little- 
noted article that "in 1963 John Kennedy began pursuing an alternative 
script on Cuba: a secret dialogue toward an actual rapprochement with Cas- 
tro." 2 The documents Kornbluh discovered have confirmed and filled in a 
story that Cuban and American diplomats have been telling for decades. 

In the fall of 1962, New York lawyer James Donovan secretly represented 
John and Robert Kennedy in negotiations with Fidel Castro for the release 
of the Bay of Pigs prisoners, so they could return to their families in Miami 
and elsewhere. In that process, which proved successful, a human encounter 
overcame politics. Donovan and Castro became friends. On Donovan's Jan- 
uary 1963 follow-up trip to Cuba, Rene Vallejo, Castro's aide and physi- 
cian, raised a new possibility that Donovan reported to U.S. intelligence 
officials. As Donovan was about to board his plane to return to the United 
States, Vallejo "broached the subject of re-establishing diplomatic relations 
with the U.S." and invited Donovan to return for talks "about the future of 
Cuba and international relations in general." 3 

In March 1963, John Kennedy took careful note of this development and 
tried to smooth the way for further dialogue with Fidel Castro. On the eve 
of another Donovan trip to Havana, the president overruled a State Depart- 
ment recommendation for Donovan's talks with Castro that would have 
raised a major obstacle in a new Cuban-American relationship. In a 
March 4, 1963, Top Secret/Eyes Only memorandum, Gordon Chase, deputy 
to the National Security Adviser, stated Kennedy's more open position 
toward Castro: "The President does not agree that we should make the 
breaking of Sino/Soviet ties a non-negotiable point. We don't want to present 
Castro with a condition that he obviously cannot fulfill. We should start 
thinking along more flexible lines." 

The memorandum went on to emphasize both secrecy and Kennedy's keen 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


attention to what was opening up with Cuba: "The above must be kept close 
to the vest. The President, himself, is very interested in this one." 4 

JFK was ahead of RFK on Cuba. In a March 14 memorandum, Robert 
Kennedy unsuccessfully urged the president to move against Castro: "I would 
not like it said a year from now that we could have had this internal breakup 
in Cuba but we just did not set the stage for it." 5 Robert apparently received 
no response from his brother, as he wrote him again on March 26 in frus- 
tration: "Do you think there was any merit to my last memo? ... In any 
case, is there anything further on this matter?" 6 

While John Kennedy was responding to his brother's anti-Castro schemes 
with silence, he was himself turning toward a new approach to Fidel. 
Although he would not forsake all U.S. efforts to subvert Cuba, before the 
month was over President Kennedy made a policy decision that in effect sig- 
naled his own opening toward Castro. It pitted him against the CIA once 
again. He was provoked into it by the Agency. 

On March 19, the CIA-sponsored Cuban exile group Alpha 66 announced 
at a Washington press conference that it had raided a Soviet "fortress" and 
ship in Cuba, causing a dozen casualties and serious damage. 7 Alpha 66 was 
one of the commando teams maintained by the giant CIA station in Miami, 
"JM/WAVE," for its attacks on Cuba. Alpha 66 exile leader Antonio Veciana 
would admit years later to Gaeton Fonzi, a federal investigator for the House 
Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), that the purpose of the CIA- 
initiated attack on the Soviet vessel in Cuban waters was "to publicly embar- 
rass Kennedy and force him to move against Castro." 8 Veciana's CIA adviser 
was a man who used the cover name "Maurice Bishop." Veciana revealed 
that "[Bishop] kept saying Kennedy would have to be forced to make a deci- 
sion, and the only way was to put him up against the wall." 9 So Bishop tar- 
geted Soviet ships to create another Soviet-American crisis. As Fonzi showed 
by his HSCA investigation, "Maurice Bishop" was in fact David Atlee 
Phillips, who would become a key player in John Kennedy's assassination 
and would subsequently be promoted to chief of the CIA's Western Hemi- 
sphere Division. 10 

"Maurice Bishop "/David Phillips carefully kept his distance from the 
Washington press conference that he had set up to publicize the Alpha 66 
attack. However, he arranged for high-ranking officials in the Departments 
of Health and Agriculture to attend it, thus giving the event legitimacy and 
prominent coverage in the next day's New York Times. 11 

The Alpha 66 raid was only the beginning. It was followed up eight days 
later by another Cuban exile attack that damaged a Soviet freighter in a 
Cuban port. 12 The JM/WAVE chief of operations coordinating these efforts 
to force Kennedy's hand against Castro was the CIA's David Sanchez 
Morales, a longtime co-worker of David Atlee Phillips. Morales would also 
participate in JFK's murder, as he would admit to friends in the 1970s. 13 

The Cuban exile attacks prompted a Soviet protest to Washington. 
Khrushchev naturally held Kennedy responsible for refugee gunboats that 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the CIA was running out of Miami. Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin 
met with Robert Kennedy, and RFK reported Dobrynin's complaint to JFK: 
"It isn't possible [for him] to believe that if we really wanted to stop these 
raids that we could not do so." 14 The CIA's tactic was forcing the president 
to choose between the militant Cold War politics of a Miami exile commu- 
nity manipulated by the CIA and the almost indefinable politics that JFK 
was developing with Nikita Khrushchev. He chose the latter. 

As in the CIA's Bay of Pigs plot to trap Kennedy, its Alpha 66 ploy back- 
fired. Instead of backing Alpha 66, President Kennedy ordered a government 
crackdown on all Miami exile raids into Cuba. In doing so, he enlisted the 
help of his brother. 

On March 31, Robert Kennedy's Justice Department took its first step in 
implementing a policy of preventing Cuban refugees from using U.S. territory 
to organize or launch raids against Cuba. The Justice Department ordered 
eighteen Cubans in the Miami area, who were already involved in raids, to 
confine their movements to Dade County (or in some cases, the U.S.), under 
the threat of arrest or deportation. One of them was Alpha 66 leader Anto- 
nio Veciana. 15 Within a week, the Coast Guard in Florida, working in con- 
cert with British officials in the Bahamas, seized a series of Cuban rebel boats 
and arrested their commando groups before they could attack Soviet ships 
near Cuba. 

The initial arrests and boat confiscations resulted in confusing news 
reports that mirrored the internal government conflict between Kennedy and 
the CIA. The owner of one of the confiscated boats, Alexander I. Rorke, Jr., 
told the New York Times that "the United States Government, through the 
Central Intelligence Agency, had had advance knowledge of the trips" of his 
boat, the Violin HI, into Cuban waters. 16 Rorke also said that "the C.I.A. had 
financed trips of the Violin III." He added that his boat, if released, "would 
be used in future Cuban operations." 17 

In response to the exiles' determination to continue the attacks, the pres- 
ident increased his efforts to stop them. Under an April 6 headline, "U.S. 
Strengthens Check on Raiders," the Times reported: 

"The United States is throwing more planes, ships, and men into its effort 
to police the straits of Florida against anti-Castro raiders operating from this 

"Coast Guard headquarters announced today that it had ordered six more 
planes and 12 more boats into the Seventh District to reinforce the patrols 
already assigned to the Florida-Puerto Rico area. 

"... The action followed the Government's announcement last weekend 
that it intended to 'take every step necessary' to halt commando raids from 
United States territory against Cuba and Soviet ships bound for Cuba." 18 

By enforcing President Kennedy's new policy, the Justice Department and 
the Coast Guard were restraining a covert arm of the CIA from drawing the 
United States into a war with Cuba. Premier Fidel Castro responded with 
evident surprise by saying that Kennedy's curtailment of the hit-and-run raids 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 59 

was "a step forward toward reduction of the dangers of crisis and war." 19 
However, as the Times reported on April 10, the Florida refugee groups sub- 
sidized by the CIA exploded with bitterness, charging the Kennedy adminis- 
tration with engaging in "coexistence" with the Castro regime. 20 

While U.S. and British forces continued to round up anti-Castro rebels 
and boats, Dr. Jose Miro Cardona, head of the Cuban Revolutionary Coun- 
cil (CRC) in Miami, resigned in protest to the shift in U.S. policy. The Cuban 
Revolutionary Council had been created by the U.S. government prior to the 
Bay of Pigs as a provisional Cuban government to seize power when Castro 
was overthrown. It also served as an umbrella organization for the variety 
of Miami exile groups. The CRC's budget and funding came from the CIA. 
In the wake of Cardona's resignation, a spokesperson for the Cuban Revo- 
lutionary Council stated that the organization received "only" $972,000 a 
year (rather than $2,000,000 as previously reported) "and this sum is not 
even distributed by the council but by the Central Intelligence Agency with 
the help of a public accounting firm." 21 

In his April 18 resignation statement, which the New York Times head- 
lined as an "Attack on Kennedy," 22 Miro Cardona said, "American Gov- 
ernment policy has shifted suddenly, violently, and unexpectedly — as 
dangerously and without warning as on that other sad occasion [the Bay of 
Pigs], with no more reasonable explanation than Russia's note protesting the 
breaking of an agreement [Kennedy's agreement with Khrushchev, in 
exchange for the Soviet missiles' removal, that the U.S. would not invade 
Cuba]." Cardona concluded from the confinement of Cuban exile raiders 
and the immobilization of their boats that "the struggle for Cuba was in the 
process of being liquidated by the Government. This conclusion," he felt, 
"appears to be confirmed, strongly confirmed, with the announcement that 
every refugee has received his last allotment this month, forcing them to relo- 
cate." 23 

With rebel raiders under arrest and government funding for the exile army 
suddenly drying up, forcing them to disperse, Cardona saw the handwriting 
on the wall and the initials beneath it: JFK. The Florida exile community 
united behind Cardona and against JFK, whom they now saw as an ally of 
Castro. They mourned the president's turnaround as a virtual death to their 
political vision. As the Associated Press reported on April 18 from Miami, 
"The dispute between the Cuban exile leaders and the Kennedy administra- 
tion was symbolized here today by black crepe hung from the doors of exiles' 
homes." 24 

Kennedy wrote Khrushchev secretly on April 11, 1963, explaining to his 
Cold War counterpart a policy chosen partly on Khrushchev's behalf that 
was already beginning to cost Kennedy dearly. The U.S. president said he 
was "aware of the tensions unduly created by recent private attacks on your 
ships in Caribbean waters; and we are taking action to halt those attacks 
which are in violation of our laws, and obtaining the support of the British 
Government in preventing the use of their Caribbean islands for this pur- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

pose. The efforts of this Government to reduce tensions have, as you know, 
aroused much criticism from certain quarters in this country. But neither 
such criticism nor the opposition of any sector of our society will be allowed 
to determine the policies of this Government. In particular, I have neither 
the intention nor the desire to invade Cuba . . ." 25 

In early April, James Donovan returned to Cuba to negotiate the release of 
more prisoners. In the meantime, the CIA had been at work on a plan to 
assassinate Castro, through his negotiating friend, Donovan. The top secret 
1967 Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro 
described the scheme: "At about the time of the Donovan-Castro negotia- 
tions for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners a plan was devised to have 
Donovan present a contaminated skin diving suit to Castro as a gift . . . 
According to Sidney Gottlieb [head of the CIA's Technical Services Division], 
this scheme progressed to the point of actually buying a diving suit and ready- 
ing it for delivery. The technique involved dusting the inside of the suit with 
a fungus that would produce a disabling and chronic skin disease (Madura 
foot) and contaminating the breathing apparatus with tubercle bacilli." 26 

CIA executive Sam Halpern, who was in on the scheme, later recalled, 
"The plan was abandoned because it was overtaken by events: Donovan had 
already given Castro a skin diving suit on his own initiative." 27 By trying to 
use negotiator Donovan as an unwitting instrument for Castro's murder, the 
CIA knew it was also setting up the authority Donovan represented, Presi- 
dent Kennedy, who would have been blamed for the Cuban premier's easily 
traceable death. Thus the intended demise of three targets: Castro's life, 
Kennedy's credibility, and the hope of a Cuban-American dialogue. The 
aborted scenario was an odd foreshadowing of the scapegoating process in 
JFK's murder, in which a CIA-created trail would lead visibly from the vic- 
tim, through Oswald, toward Castro, effectively destroying through Dallas 
any possible Cuban- American rapprochement. Nor was the CIA's Donovan- 
Castro plot without high-level authority. The Inspector General's report 
noted explicitly that among "those who were involved in the plot or who 
were identified to us by the participants as being witting" was Richard 
Helms, then covert-action chief. 28 By 1967 when the report was written on 
the CIA's plots to kill Castro, Helms had become the director of Central Intel- 

Thanks to Donovan's own fortuitous gift to Castro of a harmless diving 
suit, his dialogue partner survived the plot and their April conversations tran- 
spired hopefully. Castro raised with Donovan the issue of future U.S. policy. 
Donovan noted Kennedy's recent steps in restricting exile groups. Castro in 
turn said pointedly that his "ideal government was not to be Soviet oriented," 
and asked how diplomatic ties with the United States might be resumed. 
Donovan asked Castro, "Do you know how porcupines make love?" Cas- 
tro said, "No." "The answer," Donovan said, "is 'very carefully.'" 29 

In late April at Donovan's recommendation, Castro granted ABC reporter 
Lisa Howard an interview. 30 On her return from Cuba, Howard innocently 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


briefed the CIA in detail on Castro's surprising openness toward Kennedy. 
She reported that when she asked Castro how a rapprochement between the 
United States and Cuba could be achieved, Castro said that "steps were 
already being taken." Pressed further, he said, nodding toward Kennedy's 
initiative, that he considered "the U.S. limitation on exile raids to be a proper 
step toward accommodation." Howard concluded from the ten-hour inter- 
view that Castro was "looking for a way to reach a rapprochement with the 
United States Government." She said Castro also indicated, however, "that 
if a rapprochement was wanted President John F. Kennedy would have to 
make the first move." 31 

Each of these Castro overtures for a new U.S.-Cuban relationship was 

noted word for word in a secret CIA memorandum written on May 1, 1963, 
by the Deputy Director of Plans (head of covert action) Richard Helms, that 
was not declassified until 1996. It was addressed to CIA Director John 
McCone. A scribbled "P saw" on the upper right-hand side of the document 
indicates it was read also by the president. 32 Thus we have become witnesses 
to Kennedy watching the CIA watching Castro approaching Kennedy, in 
response to Kennedy's crackdown on the CIA's covert-action anti-Castro 
groups. As the increasingly interested porcupines edged toward each other 
very carefully, the CIA's chief of covert action was, as the president knew, 
monitoring very carefully their prickly courtship. 

The CIA tried to block the door that could be seen opening through 
Howard's interview. CIA Director John McCone argued that Howard's 
approach to Cuba "would leak and compromise a number of CIA opera- 
tions against Castro." 33 In a May 2, 1963, memorandum to National Secu- 
rity Adviser McGeorge Bundy, McCone urged that the "Lisa Howard report 
be handled in the most limited and sensitive manner" and "that no active 
steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time." 34 

As would become apparent years later from research into the background 
of Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA was then also setting in motion a covert 
operation in New Orleans to ensure there would never be a Kennedy-Castro 

n April 1963, when John Kennedy responded to CIA duplicity by turning 
toward his enemy Fidel Castro, Lee Harvey Oswald was going through a 
transition of his own — a move from Dallas to New Orleans. Unlike Kennedy, 
Oswald chose not to turn in an independent direction, but in the course of 
his move to New Orleans to continue to be directed by others for their own 

Oswald quickly found work in New Orleans at the Reily Coffee Com- 
pany. It was owned by William B. Reily, a wealthy supporter of the CIA- 
sponsored Cuban Revolutionary Council. 35 As researcher William Davy has 

shown by a recently declassified government document, Reily's Coffee Com- 
pany seems to have long been part of the CIA's New Orleans network. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

According to a CIA memorandum dated January 31, 1964, "this firm 
[Reily's] was of interest as of April 1949." 36 In a 1968 interview with the 
New Orleans District Attorney's Office, CIA contract employee Gerry Patrick 
Hemming "confirmed that William Reily had worked for the CIA for 
years." 37 As Lee Harvey Oswald went to work in New Orleans, he was in the 
company of the Company. 

The Reily Coffee Company was located at the center of the U.S. intelli- 
gence community in New Orleans, close by the offices of the CIA, FBI, Secret 
Service, and Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). 38 Directly across the street 
from Naval Intelligence and the Secret Service was another office that Oswald 
worked in, the detective agency of former FBI agent Guy Banister. 39 

Guy Banister Associates functioned more as a covert-action center for U.S. 
intelligence agencies than it did as a detective agency. Banister's office helped 
supply munitions for CIA operations ranging from the Bay of Pigs to the 
Cuban exile attacks designed to ensnare Kennedy. Guns and ammunition lit- 
tered the office. 40 CIA paramilitaries checked in with Banister on their way 
to and from nearby anti-Castro training camps. Daniel Campbell was an ex- 
Marine hired by Banister to assist in small arms training for the Cuban exiles 
and to inform on radical students at New Orleans colleges. Campbell later 
told researcher Jim DiEugenio, "Banister was a bagman for the CIA and was 
running guns to Alpha 66 in Miami." 41 

Banister's secretary and confidante Delphine Roberts said Lee Harvey 
Oswald came to Banister's office sometime in 1963, ostensibly to fill out an 
application form to become one of Banister's agents. Roberts told author 
Anthony Summers, "During the course of the conversation I gained the 
impression that he and Guy Banister already knew each other." 42 Oswald 
and Banister then met behind closed doors for a long conversation. "I pre- 
sumed then, and now am certain," Roberts said, "that the reason for Oswald 
being there was that he was required to act undercover." 43 Oswald was given 
the use of an office on the second floor, "above the main office where we 
worked," Roberts said. "I was not greatly surprised when I learned he was 
going up and down, back and forth." 44 Roberts noticed that Oswald had 
pro-Castro leaflets upstairs, and she later saw him passing them out on the 
street. When she complained to Banister about Oswald's pro-Castro demon- 
strating, Banister said not to worry about him, "He's with us, he's associated 
with the office." 45 

Banister's office became the base for a political theater that Oswald acted 
out on the streets of New Orleans during the summer of 1963, whose final 
meaning would not become apparent until November 22. Oswald had writ- 
ten in May to the New York headquarters of the Fair Play for Cuba Com- 
mittee (FPCC), saying he planned to establish his own New Orleans branch 
of the pro-Castro organization. He was warned explicitly, by a letter from the 
FPCC national director, V. T. Lee, against provoking "unnecessary incidents 
which frighten away prospective supporters" in an atmosphere as politically 
hostile to their efforts as was that of New Orleans. 46 Oswald then pushed 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


ahead and tempted fate on June 16 by passing out pro-Castro leaflets to the 
unlikely audience of sailors disembarking from an aircraft carrier, the USS 
Wasp, on the dock at the port of New Orleans. Oswald may have been smil- 
ing to himself at his efforts to stir up a Wasp's nest for the FPCC. However, 
before he could provoke precisely the kind of incident he had been warned 
against, a patrolman in the harbor police ordered him to leave, and he 
did so. 47 

In August, Oswald tried harder to make such an impact and, with the 
assistance of others, succeeded. He managed to dramatize his support for 
Fidel Castro to the entire city of New Orleans, in such a way as to highlight 
Oswald's own public history as an expatriate Marine recently returned from 
his defection to the Soviet Union. 

He began on August 5 by visiting Carlos Bringuier, a leader in the anti- 
Castro exile community. Bringuier was the New Orleans delegate of the 
Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE), a group that a 1967 CIA mem- 
orandum described as "conceived, created, and funded by CIA." 48 A House 
Select Committee on Assassinations report said "the DRE was, of all the 
anti-Castro groups, one of the most bitter toward President Kennedy for his 
[Cuban Missile Crisis] 'deal' with the Russians." 49 Former CIA agent E. 
Howard Hunt testified before the House Committee that the DRE was "run" 
for the CIA by David Phillips, 50 the same CIA man behind the scenes who as 
"Maurice Bishop" had directed the Alpha 66 raids designed to push Presi- 
dent Kennedy into war with Cuba. Carlos Bringuier's specific duties in New 
Orleans for the CIA-run DRE were, as he told both Lee Harvey Oswald and 
the Warren Commission, "propaganda and information." 51 In the summer 
of 1963, Oswald was a transparent collaborator in fulfilling Bringuier's prop- 
aganda mission. 

The story that Carlos Bringuier told the Warren Commission about his 
interactions with Oswald gave no hint of the CIA background the two men 
had in common — the key to interpreting the drama Bringuier narrated. He 
began his account by describing Oswald as a suspicious, unannounced visi- 
tor on August 5 to the New Orleans clothing store Bringuier managed. He 
said Oswald told him he was against Communism, had been in the Marine 
Corps, and "was willing to train Cubans to fight against Castro." 52 Bringuier 
continued his story by saying he turned down Oswald, who he felt might be 
an infiltrator. Undeterred, Oswald returned the next day, and in Bringuier's 
absence left Oswald's Marine Corps training manual as a personal gift for the 
fight against Castro. 

Oswald's and Bringuier's street theater occurred three days later. Bringuier 
said he was in his store when he was told about a demonstrator on Canal 
Street carrying a sign saying "Viva Fidel." He and two Cuban friends rushed 
out and confronted the Fidel activist, who to Bringuier's anger turned out to 
be the same man who had been offering to help him fight Castro, Lee Har- 
vey Oswald. Then, as Bringuier described the scene to Warren Commission 
assistant counsel Wesley J. Liebeler, "many people start to gather around us 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

to see what was going on over there. I start to explain to the people what 
Oswald did to me, because I wanted to move the American people against 
him, not to take the fight for myself as a Cuban but to move the American 
people to fight him, and I told them that that was a Castro agent, that he was 
a pro-Communist, and that he was trying to do to them exactly what he did 
to us in Cuba, kill them and send their children to the execution wall . . . 

"The people in the street became angry and they started to shout to him, 
'Traitor! Communist! Go to Cuba! Kill him!' and some other phrases that I 
do not know if I could tell in the record." 

One of Bringuier's friends snatched Oswald's leaflets, tore them up, and 
threw them in the air. 

"And I was more angry," Bringuier continued, "I took my glasses off and 
I went near to him to hit him, but when he sensed my intention, he put his 
arm down as an X." 

Bringuier paused in his narrative to demonstrate to Liebeler the X Oswald 
had made by crossing his arms in front of him. Then Bringuier resumed: 
"[Oswald] put his face [up to mine] and told me, 'O.K. Carlos, if you want 
to hit me, hit me. 


Ignoring in his story the almost friendly way in which Oswald had pro- 
voked him, Bringuier told Liebeler that he realized Oswald "was trying to 
appear as a martyr if I will hit him, and I decide not to hit him." 53 

A few seconds later two police cars pulled up. The street scene between 
the coolly controlled "pro-Castro demonstrator" and his three "opponents," 
all players in a script they had not written, was suddenly over. The police offi- 
cers arrested Oswald, Bringuier, and his two Cuban friends, and took all 
four to a police station, where they were charged with disturbing the peace. 
Bringuier and his friends were released on bond, and Oswald spent the night 
in jail. The three Cubans eventually had their charges dismissed. Oswald 
pled guilty and was fined $10.00. 54 

From jail Oswald asked through the police to speak with an FBI agent. It 
was a strange request for an anti-government demonstrator. He then met 
with New Orleans Special Agent John Quigley for an hour and a half. Why? 
Quigley told the Warren Commission vaguely the following spring that he 
felt Oswald "was probably making a self-serving statement in attempting to 
explain to me why he was distributing this literature, and for no other rea- 



The Warren Commission was well aware, by the time of Quigley's testi- 
mony, of another possible reason why Oswald might have wanted to meet 
with an FBI agent — that Oswald was on the same payroll, "employed by the 
F.B.I, at $200 per month from September of 1962 up to the time of the assas- 
sination," 56 as stated by the commission's general counsel J. Lee Rankin, at 
their closed-door meeting on January 27, 1964. The transcript of this 
remarkable session was classified "top secret" for a decade until researcher 
Harold Weisberg gained access to it through a legal battle and published all 
of it as his Whitewash IV in 1974. The purpose of the Warren Commis- 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


sioners' entire January 27 meeting was to deal with the disturbing informa- 
tion Rankin had received from Texas attorney general Waggoner Carr that 
"Oswald was an undercover agent for the F.B.I." 57 Rankin called Carr's 
report, with its specific payroll information, "a dirty rumor that is very bad 
for the Commission," and said "it must be wiped out insofar as it is possi- 
ble to do so by this Commission." 58 The Commission did so by simply ask- 
ing officials of the FBI, and the CIA as well (for whom Oswald was also said 
to have been an agent), to testify on whether Oswald had in fact been work- 
ing for them. They said he had not. 59 Former CIA director Allen Dulles put 
their denials in a national security perspective at the January 27 meeting by 
saying frankly that the CIA employers of an agent "ought not tell it under 
oath." 60 Dulles said that the same code of denial (or perjury, a word he didn't 
use) applied to the FBI. 61 The January 27 meeting's transcript is a revelation 
of how Allen Dulles, one of the master plotters of the Cold War and by logic 
a prime suspect in JFK's murder, kept a bemused composure while guiding 
the circle of distinguished elders through the cover-up. 

Oswald seems to have been working with both the CIA and the FBI. For 
the CIA, he was acting as a provocateur, subverting the public image of the 
Fair Play for Cuba Committee. As we shall see, Oswald was also being drawn 
into the plot to kill the president, in which his activities as a pro-Castro 
demonstrator were preparing the ground for his role as the assassination 
scapegoat. At the same time, Oswald was apparently an FBI informant. As 
we learn more about Lee Harvey Oswald, we will have to consider the pos- 
sibility that the information he was giving the FBI may have actually been an 
attempt to stop the killing of the president. 

Six days after his release from jail, Oswald was back on the streets pass- 
ing out more pro-Castro leaflets. This time he succeeded in gaining wider 
media attention, to the increasing detriment of the Fair Play for Cuba Com- 
mittee. His leafleting was carried on the TV news, and he was interviewed by 
local radio commentator William Stuckey, who probed into his personal 
background. Oswald presented a Marine Corps past in which he "served 
honorably," omitting his later betrayal to the Soviet Union and his undesir- 
able discharge — thereby setting himself up to be exposed as a turncoat. He 
accepted Stuckey's invitation to take part in a radio debate against his pre- 
sumed antagonist, Carlos Bringuier, and Bringuier's ally Ed Butler, a CIA 
asset who was head of the stridently anti-communist Information Council of 
the Americas (INCA). According to a CIA memorandum that is now in the 

National Archives, "Butler, Staff Director of INCA, is a contact of our New 
Orleans Office and the source of numerous reports." 62 

The radio debate on August 21 quickly became an expose of Oswald's 
history with Soviet Communism. William Stuckey had been primed earlier 
that day, he said to the Warren Commission, both by an unidentified "news 
source" and by Ed Butler, about Oswald's past in Russia. 63 Stuckey said he 
conferred with Butler, and "we agreed together to produce this information 
on the program that night." 64 As the debate began, Stuckey therefore intro- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

duced Oswald by citing newspaper clippings showing he had tried to 
renounce his American citizenship to become a Soviet citizen in 1959 and had 
remained in the Soviet Union for three years. 65 Bringuier and Butler then 
peppered Oswald with questions about the FPCC as a communist front and 
Cuba as a Soviet satellite. Oswald responded to the coordinated ambush 
with as cool a response as he had given Bringuier on the street. He calmly 
acknowledged his expatriate history in the U.S.S.R., then added his own 
touch to the discrediting of the FPCC by repeatedly bringing up its investi- 
gations by the federal government, protesting perhaps too much that noth- 
ing incriminating had been found. 66 

The "debate" succeeded in thoroughly identifying Oswald's FPCC chap- 
ter with his treasonous past. With this public relations disaster, his whirl- 
wind New Orleans campaign had ended. He had not only succeeded in 
thoroughly discrediting the FPCC in New Orleans. After John Kennedy's 
assassination, Oswald's public association with the national Fair Play for 
Cuba Committee would demolish what little there was left of it. 67 

More important, Oswald's pro-Castro masquerade in New Orleans would 
be used later to introduce Fidel Castro into the background of John 
Kennedy's murder. Through Oswald, whose Cuban connection would be fur- 
ther dramatized in the days ahead, Castro could become the larger assassi- 
nation scapegoat, thereby justifying an invasion of Cuba in retaliation for its 

apparent murder of a president who had pledged personally not to invade 

ohn Kennedy's turn toward peace was not without reversals and compro- 
mises. On June 19, 1963, President Kennedy succumbed to Cold War pres- 
sures and stepped backward. He approved a CIA program of sabotage and 
harassment against targets in Cuba that included electric power, transporta- 
tion, oil, and manufacturing facilities. 68 Kennedy was responding both to 
mounting demands in his own administration for increasing pressure on Cas- 
tro and to the appearance of a more aggressive Cuban government policy of 
exporting revolution to other Latin American countries. While adhering to 
his promise to Khrushchev not to launch a U.S. invasion of Cuba, Kennedy 
nevertheless agreed to a modified version of the covert-action campaign 
against Cuba that he had endorsed as Operation Mongoose in November 

1961. Only nine days after his American University address, Kennedy had 
ratified a CIA program contradicting it. 

Kennedy's regression can be understood in the political context of the 
time. He was, after all, an American politician, and the Cold War was far 
from over. For the remaining five months of his life, John Kennedy contin- 
ued a policy of sabotage against Cuba that he may have seen as a bone 
thrown to his barking CIA and military advisers but was in any case a crime 
against international law. It was also a violation of the international trust 
that he and Nikita Khrushchev had envisioned and increasingly fostered since 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


the missile crisis. Right up to his death, Kennedy remained in some ways a 
Cold Warrior, in conflict with his own soaring vision in the American Uni- 
versity address. What is remarkable, however, is not that Kennedy compro- 
mised that vision and continued to support the subversion of the Cuban 
government in 1963, but that beneath that given political reality of his day 
he secretly explored a different possibility with Fidel Castro. He did so with 
an increasingly open Castro through the mediation, unknown to him, of his 
other enemy, Nikita Khrushchev. 

When Khrushchev had agreed with Kennedy to withdraw Soviet missiles 
from Cuba in exchange for a promise of no invasion, Castro had been almost 
as angry with Khrushchev as he was with Kennedy. He had reason to be 
upset. As Cuba's former UN ambassador Carlos Lechuga put it in his book 
on the missile crisis, "[Castro] had been neither consulted nor even informed 
of the decision made in the Kremlin. The withdrawal of the missiles and the 
way that decision was made was a painful blow to both the Cuban govern- 
ment and people. Even though, looking back on events, it may be considered 
that war was averted, the problem had not been solved in a way that would 
remove the threat to Cuba." 69 

All Cuba gained from the superpowers' agreement was the promise by an 
imperialist president that the United States would not invade its tiny neigh- 
bor. Yet there were no guarantees that Kennedy or his successors would ful- 
fill that pledge. Nor did the vow of no invasion mean an end to U.S. 
subversion of Cuba, as subsequent events proved. Castro was furious that his 
Soviet ally had suddenly withdrawn without consultation a nuclear deter- 
rent to U.S. aggression. After the missile crisis, for days Castro was so angry 
that he refused even to meet with the Soviet ambassador in Havana. 70 In his 
view Nikita Khrushchev had become a traitor. 

Khrushchev responded to his repudiation by Castro by writing him what 
the Cuban premier described three decades later as "really a wonderful let- 
ter ... a beautiful, elegant, very friendly letter." 71 In that January 31, 1963, 
letter to his estranged comrade, Khrushchev began, as he had in his first 
secret letter to Kennedy, with a description of the beauty surrounding him, 
in this case as he rode in a train returning to Moscow from a conference in 

"Our train is crossing the fields and forests of Soviet Byelorussia and it 
occurs to me how wonderful it would be if you could see, on a sunny day like 
this, the ground covered with snow and the forests silvery with frost. 

"Perhaps you, a southern man, have seen this only in paintings. It must 
surely be fairly difficult for you to imagine the ground carpeted with snow 
and the forests covered with white frost. It would be good if you could visit 
our country each season of the year; every one of them, spring, summer, fall, 
and winter, has its delights." 72 

Khrushchev said the principal theme of his letter was "the strong desire 
my comrades and I feel to see you and to talk, to talk with our hearts 
open." 73 He acknowledged the current strain "in the relations between our 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

states — Cuba and the Soviet Union — and in our own personal relationship. 
Speaking frankly, these relations are not what they were before the crisis. I 
will not conceal the fact that this troubles and worries us. And it seems to me 
that the development of our relations will depend, in large part, on our 
meeting." 74 

He then reviewed the Caribbean crisis, in which "our viewpoints did not 
always coincide," appealing to Castro to recognize finally: "There are, in 
spite of everything, commitments that the United States of North America 
has undertaken through the statement of their president. Obviously, one can- 
not trust them and take it as an absolute guarantee, but neither is it reason- 
able to ignore them totally." 75 

Khrushchev was, ever so gently, urging Castro to risk trusting Kennedy, 
as Khrushchev himself was beginning to do, in tandem with Kennedy's begin- 
ning to trust him, sometimes to one or the other's regret but with their mutu- 
ally discovered commitment to peace as the foundation to which they could 
always return. 

Castro accepted Khrushchev's invitation to visit him that spring. He 
toured almost the entire Soviet Union in May and early June 1963, spend- 
ing at least half the time with the leader he had rejected and shunned in 
November. According to Nikita Khrushchev's son Sergei, it was then that 
"Father and Fidel developed a teacher-student relationship." 76 Castro's own 
description of his time with Khrushchev has confirmed both its tutorial 
dimension and its focus on the missile crisis: "for hours [Khrushchev] read 
many messages to me, messages from President Kennedy, messages some- 
times delivered through Robert Kennedy . . . There was a translator, and 
Khrushchev read and read the letters sent back and forth." 77 

Khrushchev was trying to pass on to his Cuban comrade the paradoxical 
enlightenment for peace that he and Kennedy had received together from the 
brink of total war. While trying not to sound overly positive about a capitalist 
leader, Khrushchev also couldn't help but reveal the extraordinary hope he 
felt because of what he and Kennedy had managed to resolve. As Sergei 
Khrushchev put it, "Father tried to persuade Castro that the U.S. president 
would keep his word and that Cuba was guaranteed six years of peaceful 
development, which was how long Father thought Kennedy would be in the 
White House. Six years! Almost an eternity!" 78 

In the course of reading aloud his correspondence with Kennedy, 
Khrushchev also inadvertently revealed to Castro that he and Kennedy had 
exchanged the withdrawal of missiles in Cuba for the withdrawal of missiles 
in Turkey and Italy. It showed that Khrushchev had other strategic consid- 
erations in mind besides the defense of Cuba. Castro recalled: "When this 
was read, I looked at him and said: 'Nikita, would you please read that part 
again about the missiles in Turkey and Italy?' He laughed that mischievous 
laugh of his. He laughed, but that was it. I was sure that they were not going 
to repeat it again because it was like that old phrase about bringing up the 
issue of the noose in the home of the man who was hung." 79 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


As we know, even before Castro visited the Soviet Union, he had already 
begun to turn toward Kennedy through his friendly exchanges with the pres- 
ident's negotiator for the Bay of Pigs prisoners, James Donovan, and in 
response to Kennedy's April crackdown on Cuban exile attacks. Further 
encouraged by Khrushchev's tutorial, Castro returned to Havana confirmed 
in his resolve to negotiate with his enemy, John Kennedy. The CIA continued 
to monitor every step of this process. In a secret June 5, 1963, memoran- 
dum, Richard Helms wrote that the CIA had just received a report that, "at 
the request of Khrushchev, Castro was returning to Cuba with the intention 
of adopting a conciliatory policy toward the Kennedy administration 'for 
the time being.'" 80 

The CIA cut short this development by its sabotage program (that 
Kennedy approved on June 19) and by its own attempt once again to assas- 
sinate Castro. Toward the end of the summer of 1963, CIA case officers met 
with an undercover CIA agent code-named AM/LASH, who lived in Cuba. 
AM/LASH was close to Fidel Castro. At the meeting he discussed with his 
CIA case officers an "inside job" against Castro. He said he was "awaiting 
a U.S. plan of action." 81 This was reported to CIA Headquarters on Sep- 
tember 7. We will learn more about that Castro assassination plan, as the 

CIA shapes and directs it to converge with John Kennedy's assassination. 

Early the next morning, Premier Fidel Castro was interviewed at the 
Brazilian Embassy in Havana following a reception. In a September 9 arti- 
cle in U.S. papers, Associated Press reporter Daniel Harker said Castro had 
delivered "a rambling, informal post-midnight dissertation," in the course of 
which he warned "U.S. leaders" if they aided any attempt to eliminate Cuban 
leaders: "We are prepared to fight them and answer in kind. U.S. leaders 
should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban lead- 
ers, they themselves will not be safe." 82 

When Castro was questioned about this statement by the HSCA in 1978, 
he said, "I don't remember literally what I said, but I remember my intention 
in saying what I said and it was to warn the government that we know about 
the (attempted) plots against our lives ... So, I said something like those 
plots start to set a very bad precedent, a very serious one — that that could 
become a boomerang against the authors of those actions . . . but I did not 
mean to threaten by that ... I did not mean by that that we were going to 
take measures — similar measures — like a retaliation for that." 83 

With Kennedy and Castro expressing mutual hostility and backing away 
from any dialogue during the summer, it was not until late September that 
the two porcupines began to resume their prickly courtship. Their renewed 
interest in a dialogue came about through the mediation of Lisa Howard, 
the ABC newswoman who had interviewed Castro in April, and William 
Attwood, a U.S. diplomat attached to its United Nations mission. 

After her return from Cuba, Lisa Howard had written an article in the 
journal War /Peace Report on "Castro's Overture," based on her interview 
with the Cuban premier. She wrote that in their private conversations Cas- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

tro had been "even more emphatic about his desire for negotiations with the 
United States ... In our conversations he made it quite clear that he was 
ready to discuss: the Soviet personnel and military hardware on Cuban soil; 
compensation for expropriated American lands and investments; the question 
of Cuba as a base for Communist subversion throughout the Hemisphere." 84 

It was Howard who envisioned the next step. Her article urged the 
Kennedy administration to "send an American government of ficial on a quiet 
mission to Havana to hear what Castro has to say." 85 This was the risk-filled 
secret mission that William Attwood actually began to undertake on behalf 
of President John Kennedy in September 1963. 

More than a decade after JFK's assassination, on January 10, 1975, 

William Attwood testified at a top-secret executive session of Senator Frank 
Church's Committee on Intelligence Activities. There the question was posed 
to Attwood: "Were you asked by President Kennedy to explore the possibil- 
ity of a rapprochement with Fidel Castro and Cuba?" 

Attwood answered: "Yes . . . yes, approaches were made and contact was 
established and this was done with the knowledge, approval, and encour- 
agement of the White House." 86 

William Attwood was well qualified for such a role. As a distinguished 
journalist, Attwood had interviewed Fidel Castro in 1959 soon after the 
Cuban revolution for two articles in Look magazine. In a September 18, 
1963, memorandum to the White House, Attwood wrote of his journalistic 
relationship with Castro: "Although Castro did not like my final article in 
1959, we got along well and I believe he remembers me as someone he could 
talk to frankly." 87 Attwood had also been a speechwriter for both Adlai 
Stevenson and John Kennedy. President Kennedy appointed him ambassador 
to Guinea. Attwood had known Kennedy since their school days. In the fall 
of 1963, William Attwood was between diplomatic assignments by JFK, serv- 
ing then for a few months at the United Nations as an African affairs adviser 
to UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson. Attwood was in a perfect position to be 

JFK's point man in a secret dialogue with Castro. As he put it in his Sep- 
tember 18 memorandum briefing Stevenson and Kennedy, "I have enough 

rank to satisfy Castro that this would be a serious conversation. At the same 
time I am not so well-known that my departure, arrival or return [to and 
from Cuba] would be noticed." 88 

On September 20 President Kennedy went to New York to address the 
UN General Assembly. He met with Ambassador Stevenson and gave his 
approval for William Attwood "to make discreet contact" with Dr. Carlos 
Lechuga, Cuba's UN ambassador, in order to explore a possible dialogue 
with Castro. 89 At this point Adlai Stevenson said prophetically why he 
thought such a Kennedy-Castro dialogue would never be allowed to happen. 
"Unfortunately," he told Attwood, "the CIA is still in charge of Cuba." 90 
Nevertheless, President Kennedy, while knowing the danger of his once again 
heading upstream against the CIA, had decided the time was right to begin 
talking with Castro. 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


In collaboration with Attwood, Lisa Howard organized a party at her 
New York apartment on September 23 to serve as the pretext and social 
cover for a first conversation between Attwood and Lechuga. When she 
invited Carlos Lechuga to the party, she made sure he would come by say- 
ing, in Lechuga's recollection years later, "that Ambassador William Attwood 
of the U.S. delegation wanted to talk with me and that it was urgent, as he 
was going to Washington the next day." 91 

Both Lechuga and Attwood later wrote memoirs that included comple- 
mentary descriptions of their seminal conversation at Lisa Howard's party, 
Lechuga's In the Eye of the Storm and Attwood's The Twilight Struggle. 
According to Lechuga's more detailed account, Attwood was introduced to 
him "in the midst of cocktails, sandwiches, diplomats, and journalists," and 
"lost no time in saying why he had wanted to meet me. He said that Steven- 
son had authorized him to do so and that he would be flying to Washington 
in a few hours to request authorization from the president to go to Cuba to 
meet with Fidel Castro and ask about the feasibility of a rapprochement 
between Havana and Washington." Lechuga was astounded by Attwood's 
overture. He sensed rightly that not only Stevenson but also the president 
had already approved their initial contact. He told Attwood that, in view of 
the conflicts between their countries, "what he was telling me came as a sur- 
prise and that I would listen to him with great interest." 92 

Attwood asked if Lechuga felt the chances of the Cuban government 
allowing him to go to Havana for such a purpose were fifty-fifty. Lechuga 
said, "That may be a good guess." 93 The two men agreed that current U.S. 
policies, with Kennedy's American University address and test ban treaty 
presenting one aspect, and the CIA's saboteurs in Cuba and spy flights over- 
head presenting another, had created "an absurd situation." Attwood told 
Lechuga "that Kennedy had often confessed in private conversations that he 
didn't know how he was going to change U.S. policy on Cuba, and that nei- 
ther the United States nor Cuba could change it overnight because of the 
prestige involved. However, Kennedy said something had to be done about 
it and a start had to be made." 94 

William Attwood's account of the same conversation adds a few details. 
Lechuga "said Castro had hoped to establish some sort of contact with 
Kennedy after he became president in 1961, but the Bay of Pigs ended any 
chance of that, at least for the time being. But Castro had read Kennedy's 
American University speech in June and had liked its tone. I mentioned my 
Havana visit in 1959 and Fidel's 'Let us be friends' remark in our conversa- 
tion. Lechuga said another such conversation in Havana could be useful and 
might be arranged. He expressed irritation at the continuing exile raids and 
our freezing $33 million in Cuban assets in U.S. banks in July. We agreed the 
present situation was abnormal [Lechuga thought they had agreed the situ- 
ation was "absurd"] and we should keep in touch." 95 

On September 24 Attwood met Robert Kennedy in Washington and 
reported on his meeting with Lechuga the night before. RFK thought 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Attwood's going to Cuba was too risky — "it was bound to leak," provoking 
accusations of appeasement. 96 He wondered if Castro would agree to meet 
somewhere outside Cuba, perhaps at the United Nations. He said Attwood 
should continue pursuing the matter with Lechuga. 97 

Three days later Attwood met Lechuga at the UN Delegates Lounge, 
"always a good place for discreet encounters," Attwood noted, "because of 
its noise and confusion." 98 He told Lechuga it would be difficult for him as 
a government official to go to Cuba. However, "if Castro or a personal emis- 
sary had something to tell us, we were prepared to meet him and listen wher- 
ever else would be convenient." 99 Lechuga said he would pass on the 
information to Havana. 

Lechuga then warned his secret dialogue partner that he'd be "making a 
tough anti-American speech on October 7, but not to take it too seriously." 100 
When Adlai Stevenson replied to Lechuga on October 7 with his own anti- 
Cuban speech, it had been written by Attwood — and was in turn taken with 

a grain of salt by Lechuga, in view of his knowledge of John Kennedy's turn 
toward a dialogue with Fidel Castro. 101 U.S.-Cuban polemics at the UN now 
served as a cover for a beginning Kennedy-Castro dialogue. 

After three weeks without a reply from Havana, with Attwood's approval 
Lisa Howard began phoning Rene Vallejo, Castro's aide and confidant, who 
favored a U.S.-Cuban dialogue. Howard doubted the message from Lechuga 
had ever gotten past the Cuban Foreign Office. She wanted to make sure 
through Vallejo that Castro himself knew there was a U.S. official ready to 
talk with him. For another week she and Vallejo left phone messages for each 
other. 102 

On October 28, Attwood was finally told by Lechuga in the UN Dele- 
gates' Lounge that Havana did not think "sending someone to the United 
Nations for talks" would be "useful at this time." 103 Like Howard, Attwood 
felt that Lechuga's message had never even reached Castro through an 
unsympathetic Foreign Office. 104 

In the meantime, an impatient John Kennedy had decided to create his 
own back channel to communicate with Fidel Castro, just as he had done 
with Nikita Khrushchev through Norman Cousins and other intermediaries. 
On Thursday, October 24, the president was interviewed at the White House 
by French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of the socialist newsweekly L'Ob- 
servateur. Daniel was an old friend of William Attwood, who knew he was 
on his way to Cuba to interview Castro. Attwood had urged Daniel to see 
Kennedy first. Kennedy granted the interview as a perfect way for him to 
communicate informally with Castro, through pointed remarks that Daniel 
would inevitably share with his next interview subject. Daniel realized that 
Kennedy, who asked to see him again right after he saw Castro, wanted to 
know Castro's response. The president was making Daniel his unofficial 
envoy to the Cuban prime minister. 

In the New Republic article he wrote on his historic interviews with 
Kennedy and Castro, Daniel stressed the emphasis with which Kennedy 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


spoke about the Cuban revolution: "John Kennedy then mustered all his per- 
suasive force. He punctuated each sentence with that brief, mechanical ges- 
ture which had become famous." 105 

"From the beginning," Kennedy said, "I personally followed the devel- 
opment of these events [in Cuba] with mounting concern. There are few sub- 
jects to which I have devoted more painstaking attention . . . Here is what I 
believe." Then came the words that could have become the seeds for a just 
peace between the United States and Cuba. Just as Kennedy's American Uni- 
versity paragraphs on Russian suffering had profoundly impressed his Rus- 
sian enemy Nikita Khrushchev, so would the president's next words to Jean 
Daniel on Cuban suffering, repeated to Fidel Castro, break through the ide- 
ological resistance of his Cuban enemy: 

"I believe that there is no country in the world, including all the African 
regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where 
economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in 

Cuba, in part owing to my country's policies during the Batista regime ... I 
approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, 
when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of 
corruption. I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was 
the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we 
shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in 
agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear." 106 

Kennedy looked at Daniel in silence. He noticed his surprise and height- 
ened interest. Then the president went on to define in Cold War terms what 
he saw as the essence of his conflict with Castro: 

"But it is also clear that the problem has ceased to be a Cuban one, and 
has become international — that is, it has become a Soviet problem ... I know 
that through [Castro's] fault — either his 'will to independence' [Kennedy had 
just spoken with Daniel on General Charles de Gaulle's 'will to independence' 
for France, a psycho-political strategy requiring a constant tension with the 
United States], his madness or Communism — the world was on the verge of 
nuclear war in October, 1962. The Russians understood this very well, at 
least after our reaction; but so far as Fidel Castro is concerned, I must say I 
don't know whether he realizes this, or even if he cares about it." 

Kennedy smiled, then added: "You can tell me whether he does when you 
come back." 107 

After his ringing endorsement of the Cuban revolution, Kennedy's argu- 
ment with Castro rested on Cold War assumptions that Kennedy himself was 
beginning to doubt but had not yet discarded. Even after his American Uni- 
versity address, he was still unable to see that it had been the ongoing threat 
of a U.S. invasion of Cuba (provoking the Soviet-Cuban decision to deter 
that invasion by nuclear missiles) that had caused the Cuban Missile Crisis, 
not Castro's "'will to independence,' madness, or Communism." Yet at the 
same time Daniel could see Kennedy was distinctly uncomfortable with the 
dead end where his assumptions led for the revolution he had just endorsed. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

His last comment to Daniel was: "The continuation of the blockade [against 
Cuba] depends on the continuation of subversive activities." 108 He meant 
Castro's subversive activities, not his own, but as Daniel said to his readers, 
"I could see plainly that John Kennedy had doubts, and was seeking a way 
out." 109 However, he had less than a month left to find that way out. 

n the fall of 1963, as John Kennedy and Fidel Castro sought secretly a way 
of rapprochement, the CIA took its own secret steps in an opposite direc- 
tion, toward setting up Lee Harvey Oswald as an identifiable Soviet-and- 
Cuban-directed assassin of the president. "Sheepdipping," the process 
whereby sheep are plunged into a liquid to destroy parasites, had been 
applied in its intelligence sense to Oswald in New Orleans. There Oswald's 
potentially incriminating associations in Fort Worth and Dallas with George 
de Mohrenschildt and the White Russian community were expunged in the 
pool of Oswald's Fair Play for Cuba dramatics. Oswald would now be 
moved back to Dallas, but with his visible, CIA-connected mentor de 
Mohrenschildt having been safely removed to Haiti. Into de Mohrenschildt's 
place stepped a less visible figure. However, thanks to the dedicated probing 
of an investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, we 
have been given a glimpse of the man in the shadows. 

In early September, Oswald met CIA agent David Atlee Phillips in the busy 
lobby of a downtown office building in Dallas. Alpha 66 leader Antonio 
Veciana, who worked for years under Phillips and knew him by his pseudo- 
nym "Maurice Bishop," witnessed the Dallas scene. He described it in 1975 
to the HSCA investigator he had learned to trust, Gaeton Fonzi, who included 
it in his book The Last Investigation: "as soon as he walked in, [Veciana] saw 
Bishop standing in a corner of the lobby talking with a pale, slight and soft- 
featured young man. Veciana does not recall if Bishop introduced him by 
name, but Bishop ended his conversation with the young man shortly after 
Veciana arrived. Together, they walked out of the lobby onto the busy side- 
walk. Bishop and the young man stopped behind Veciana for a moment, had 
a few additional words, then the young man gestured farewell and walked 
away. Bishop immediately turned to Veciana and began a discussion of the 
current activities of Alpha 66 as they walked to a nearby coffee shop. He 
never spoke to Veciana about the young man and Veciana didn't ask." 110 

On November 22, Veciana would immediately recognize the newspaper 
and television pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald as being of the young man he 
had seen in Dallas with his own CIA handler "Maurice Bishop." However, 
in his subsequent meetings with Bishop, Veciana would be careful never to 
allude to the Oswald meeting both men knew he had observed, which if 
known further could serve as a critical evidentiary link between the CIA and 
the accused assassin of the president. 111 Sixteen years later, after Veciana did 
finally describe the Oswald meeting to the House Committee and came to the 
very edge of identifying David Atlee Phillips as "Maurice Bishop," he was 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


shot in the head by an unidentified gunman in Miami. Veciana recovered 
from the assassination attempt. He never admitted publicly that Phillips was 
Bishop, though he acknowledged as much privately to Fonzi. 112 

When I interviewed Antonio Veciana, he added details about the attempt 
to assassinate him. He said the FBI had warned him three times that he was 
about to be killed. Yet after he was shot, the FBI did nothing to investigate 
the incident. They said it was the responsibility of the Miami police, who in 
turn did no investigation. 113 By avoiding any investigation, the FBI and the 

police seemed to be deferring to a higher authority. 

We have already seen how David Phillips, as Antonio Veciana 's CIA spon- 
sor, guided Alpha 66's efforts to draw President Kennedy into an all-out war 
with Fidel Castro. Phillips was Chief of Covert Action at the CIA's Mexico 
City Station. Two months before JFK's murder, Phillips became Mexico City's 
Chief of Cuban Operations. 114 Phillips was, from the beginning to the end of 
his CIA career, a team player. Following the Kennedy assassination, he rose 
to the rank of chief of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division. Shortly before 
his retirement in 1975, he was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, 
the CIA's highest honor. 115 In the fall of 1963, David Atlee Phillips was work- 
ing under Richard Helms, the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans and master- 
mind of covert action. 

According to the Warren Report, Lee Harvey Oswald was in Mexico City 
from September 27 to October 2, 1963, and visited both the Cuban and 

Soviet Consulates. 116 This is the point at which the person Lee Harvey 

Oswald begins to disappear down a black hole. As a Cold War actor who 

took on assigned roles, the person Oswald was never easy to see. In Mexico 

City the real Oswald almost drops out of sight, but with his absence covered 

by impersonators and the CIA's smoke and mirrors. 

The CIA's Mexico City Station kept a close watch on activities at the 
Cuban and Soviet Consulates. Agents had set up hidden observation posts 
across the street that took pictures of visitors to the two sites. 117 The Agency 
had also wiretapped the phones at both the Cuban and Soviet facilities. 118 
Thus, the CIA had front-row surveillance seats for what transpired there. 

The Agency's reports on what were supposedly Lee Harvey Oswald's vis- 
its and phone calls to the two consulates inadvertently revealed more about 
the CIA than they ever did about Oswald. The Mexico City story being cre- 
ated about Oswald in carefully preserved documents was written with such 
dexterity in some places, and with such clumsiness in others, that it eventu- 
ally drew more attention to itself and its authors than it did to its fictional- 
ized subject. As a result, what Oswald himself really did in Mexico City is 
in fact less certain today than what the CIA did in his name. The documents 
containing this self-revelation have finally been declassified and made avail- 
able to the American public during the past decade as a result of the JFK 
Records Act passed by Congress in 1992. However, only a few dedicated 
researchers of the Kennedy assassination have studied these materials and 
have understood their implications. 119 

76 JFK and the Unspeakable 

On October 9, 1963, CIA headquarters received a cable from its Mexico 
City Station about an October 1 phone call to the Soviet Consulate that had 
been wiretapped, taped, transcribed, and translated from Russian into Eng- 
lish. The call came from "an American male who spoke broken Russian" 

and who "said his name [was] Lee Oswald." 120 The man who said he was 
Oswald stated that he had been at the Soviet Embassy on September 28, 
when he spoke with a consul he believed was Valery Vladimirovich Kostikov. 
He asked "if there [was] anything new re telegram to Washington." The 
Soviet guard who answered the phone said nothing had been received yet, but 
the request had been sent. He then hung up. 

The CIA's October 9 cable from Mexico City is noteworthy in two 
respects. The first is the connection between Oswald and Valery Vladimir- 
ovich Kostikov. Kostikov was well known to the CIA and FBI as the KGB 
(Soviet Committee for State Security) agent in Mexico City who directed 
Division 13, the KGB department for terrorism, sabotage, and assassination. 
Former FBI director Clarence M. Kelley stressed in his autobiography: "The 
importance of Kostikov cannot be overstated. As [Dallas FBI agent] Jim 
Hosty wrote later: 'Kostikov was the officer-in-charge for Western Hemi- 
sphere terrorist activities — including and especially assassination. In military 
ranking he would have been a one-star general. As the Russians would say, 
he was their Line V man — the most dangerous KGB terrorist assigned to this 
hemisphere!'" 121 

Equally noteworthy in the October 9 cable is the evidence it provides that 
the "Lee Oswald" who made the October 1 phone call was an impostor. The 
caller, it said, "spoke broken Russian." The real Oswald was fluent in Rus- 
sian. 122 The cable went on to say that the Mexico City Station had surveil- 
lance photos of a man who appeared to be an American entering and leaving 
the Soviet Embassy on October 1. He was described as "apparent age 35, 
athletic build, circa 6 feet, receding hairline, balding top." 123 In a CIA cable 
back to Mexico City on October 10, the Lee Oswald who defected to the 
U.S.S.R. in October 1959 was described as not quite 24, "five feet ten inches, 
one hundred sixty five pounds, light brown wavy hair, blue eyes." 124 

What one is confronted with in the October 9 cable is an apparently 
damning connection between Oswald and a KGB assassination expert, but 
a connection made by a man impersonating Oswald. It is the beginning of a 
two-tracks Mexico City story. On one track is the CIA's attempt to docu- 
ment Oswald's complicity with the Soviet Union and Cuba in the assassina- 
tion of John F. Kennedy. On the other track is the recurring evidence within 
the same documents of a fraudulent Oswald at work. 

Given the notoriety of Valery Kostikov in U.S. intelligence circles, it is 

remarkable that when CIA headquarters cabled the State Department, the 
FBI, and the Navy on October 10 to relay the wiretapped information it had 

received on Oswald the day before, the cable made no reference to his spe- 
cific connection with Kostikov. 125 Kostikov was not even mentioned. This 
would be like a 2001 intelligence report on a suspected terrorist neglecting 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


to mention that he had just met with Osama bin Laden. CIA headquarters 
was keeping its knowledge of the Oswald-Kostikov connection close to its 
vest. The CIA's silence regarding Kostikov was maintained just long enough 
for Oswald to be moved quietly (without being placed on the FBI's Security 
Index) into a position overlooking Dealey Plaza on November 22. After the 
assassination, the CIA used its dormant Mexico City documents to link the 
accused assassin Oswald with the KGB's Kostikov. 

On November 25, 1963, Richard Helms sent a memorandum to J. Edgar 
Hoover that marshaled the CIA's phone-tapped evidence suggesting that 
Oswald had received not only Soviet but also Cuban government support in 
assassinating Kennedy. 126 Attached to the Helms memorandum were tran- 
scripts for the audiotapes of seven calls to the Soviet Mexico City embassy 
attributed to Oswald. Two of them stood out. One was the October 1 call 
in which "Oswald" identified Kostikov as the Soviet consul he had met with 
on September 28. In the other outstanding call, reportedly made on Sep- 
tember 28, the same man, speaking from the Cuban Consulate, made refer- 
ence to his having just been at the Soviet Embassy. To understand this 
revealing call, we need to put it in the context of what may or may not have 
been the real Oswald's shuttles between the Cuban and Soviet Consulates 
during his first two days in Mexico City, September 27 and 28. 

Given Lee Harvey Oswald's willingness to take on intelligence roles, the 
primary question concerning his visits to the Cuban and Soviet Consulates 
is not: Was it really he? 127 Whether it was Oswald or someone using his 
name, the "he" was still an actor following a script. If the actor was himself, 
from his limited standpoint his role's purpose would have been, as in New 
Orleans, to discredit the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in a minor Cold War 
battle. According to an FBI memorandum dated September 18, 1963, dis- 
covered by the Church Committee, 128 the CIA advised the FBI two days ear- 
lier that the "Agency is giving some consideration to countering the activities 
of [the FPCC] in foreign countries." 129 Nine days later in Mexico City, 
"Oswald" visited the Cuban and Soviet Consulates displaying his FPCC cre- 
dentials and seeking visas to both those Communist countries. Whether it 
was Oswald or not who was playing out another FPCC-discrediting role in 

his name, the more basic question is: What was the Mexico City scenario's 
purpose in the larger script written for the president's murder? It is this ques- 
tion of ultimate purpose that the CIA's Mexico City surveillance tapes will 
assist us in answering, after we first consider the September 27-28 visits to 

the consulates that were acted out in the name of Oswald. 

According to Silvia Duran, the Cuban Consulate's Mexican employee who 
spoke with Oswald, he (or an impostor) visited their consulate three times 
on Friday, September 27. At his 11:00 A.M. visit, Oswald applied for a Cuban 
transit visa for a trip to the Soviet Union. Duran was a little suspicious of 
Oswald. She felt the American was too eager in displaying his leftist creden- 
tials: membership cards in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and the Amer- 
ican Communist Party, old Soviet documents, a newspaper clipping on his 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

arrest in New Orleans, a photo of Oswald being escorted by a policeman on 
each arm that Duran thought looked phony. 130 Duran also knew that belong- 
ing to the Communist Party was illegal in Mexico in 1963. For that reason, 
a Communist would normally travel in the country with only a passport. 
Yet here was Oswald documented in a way that invited his arrest. 131 

Duran told Oswald he lacked the photographs he needed for his visa appli- 
cation. She also said he would first need permission to visit the Soviet Union 
before he could be issued a transit visa for Cuba. Visibly upset, Oswald 
departed, but returned to the consulate an hour later with his visa photos. 

In the late afternoon, Oswald returned again to the Cuban Consulate, 
insisting this time to Silvia Duran that he be granted a Cuban visa at once. 
He claimed that the Soviet Consulate had just assured him he would be given 
a Soviet visa. Duran checked by phone with the Soviets and learned other- 
wise. She told Oswald, who then flew into a rage. He ranted at Duran, then 
at the Cuban consul, Eusebio Azcue, who had stepped out of his office into 
the commotion. Oswald raged in response to Azcue 's explanation of the visa 
procedure. Azcue yelled back at him. 132 Oswald called Azcue and Duran 
mere "bureaucrats." 133 Then, as Silvia Duran recalled in 1978 to the House 
Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), Azcue went to the door, opened 
it, and asked Oswald to leave. 134 The extraordinary episode had, perhaps as 
intended, left an indelible impression on Duran and Azcue. 

Oswald's two visits to the Soviet Embassy have been described by the KGB 
officer who served as its vice consul, Col. Oleg Maximovich Nechiporenko, 
in his 1993 memoir Passport to Assassination. At his first visit on Friday 
afternoon, September 27, Oswald did indeed speak briefly with Valery 

Vladimirovich Kostikov. Nechiporenko refers to Kostikov casually as "one 
of the consulate employees who on that particular day was receiving visitors 
from eleven in the morning until one in the afternoon." 135 Oswald said he 

was seeking a visa to the Soviet Union. Kostikov handed him over to 
Nechiporenko, who listened to Oswald's urgent request for an immediate 
visa. Nechiporenko explained that their Washington, D.C., embassy handled 
all matters regarding travel to the Soviet Union. He could make an exception 
for Oswald and send his papers on to Moscow, " but the answer would still 
be sent to his permanent residence, and it would take, at the very least, four 
months." 136 

Oswald listened with growing exasperation. "When I had finished speak- 
ing," Nechiporenko recalled, "he slowly leaned forward and, barely able to 
restrain himself, practically shouted in my face, 'This won't do for me! This 
is not my case! For me, it's all going to end in tragedy!" 137 Nechiporenko 
showed the unruly American out of the compound. 

Oswald returned to the Soviet Embassy the next morning. He renewed 
his request for a quick visa to the U.S.S.R., this time to Valery Kostikov (this 
being their September 28 meeting) and Soviet consul Pavel Yatskov. Oswald 
became even more agitated than he had been the day before, referring to FBI 
surveillance and persecution. He took a revolver from his jacket pocket, 
placed it on a table, and said, "See? This is what I must now carry to pro- 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


tect my life." 138 The Soviet officials carefully took the gun and removed its 
bullets. They told Oswald once again they could not give him a quick visa. 
They offered him instead the necessary forms to be filled out. Oswald didn't 
take them. Oleg Nechiporenko joined the three men as their conversation 
was ending. For the second day in a row, he accompanied a depressed 
Oswald to the gate of the embassy, this time with Oswald's returned revolver 
and its loose bullets stuck back in his jacket pocket. Nechiporenko says that 
he, Kostikov, and Yatskov then immediately prepared a report on Oswald's 
two embassy visits that they cabled to Moscow Center. 139 

Oswald's three visits to the Cuban Consulate on September 27, and his 
two visits to the Soviet Embassy on September 27-28, comprise the back- 
ground to the September 28 phone transcript sent by Richard Helms to J. 
Edgar Hoover. The CIA's transcript states that the Saturday, September 28, 
call came from the Cuban Consulate. The first speaker is identified as Silvia 
Duran. However, Silvia Duran has insisted repeatedly over the years, first, 
that the Cuban Embassy was closed to the public on Saturdays, and second, 
that she never took part in such a call. 140 

"Duran" is said to be phoning the Soviet Consulate. Oleg Nechiporenko 
denies in turn that this call occurred. He says it was impossible because the 
Soviet switchboard was closed. 141 

The "Duran" speaker in the transcript says that an American in her con- 
sulate, who had been in the Soviet Embassy, wants to talk to them. She passes 
the phone to a North American man. The American insists that he and the 
Soviet representative speak Russian. They engage in a conversation, with the 
American speaking what the translator describes as "terrible hardly recog- 
nizable Russian." This once again argues against the speaker being Oswald, 
given his fluent Russian. The CIA transcript of this unlikely conversation 
then reads: 

North American: "I was just now at your embassy and they took my 

Soviet: "I know that." 

North American: "I did not know it then. I went to the Cuban 

Embassy to ask them for my address because they have it. 


Soviet: "Why don't you come again and leave your address with us. It 
is not far from the Cuban Embassy." 

North American: "Well, I'll be there right away." 142 

What is the purpose behind this strange, counterfeit dialogue? 

Richard Helms, in his accompanying letter to J. Edgar Hoover, states that 
the "North American" in the Saturday, September 28, call is the same man 
who identified himself as Lee Oswald in the October 1 call (which confirmed 
and documented Oswald's Saturday meeting with Kostikov). In that con- 
nection the bogus Saturday call has "Oswald" saying he was "just now" at 
the Soviet Embassy (with KGB assassination expert Kostikov) and that his 
correct address is known only by the Cuban Embassy, not himself. He will 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

bring it to the Soviets. Thus, in the CIA's interpretation of events, documented 
by fraudulent phone calls, the Cuban authorities and Soviet assassin Kostikov 
were working together in their control of Oswald's address and movements, 
two months before Kennedy's assassination. As researcher John Newman 
said in a presentation on these documents, "It looks like the Cubans and the 
Russians are working in tandem. It looks like [Oswald] is going to meet with 
Kostikov at a place designated by the Cubans . . . Oswald expected to be at 
some location fixed by the Cuban Embassy and wanted the Russians to be 
able to reach him there." 143 

In addition, Oswald (or an impostor) was applying for Cuban and Soviet 
visas, which could be used as evidence of his attempting to gain asylum in 
Communist countries. The Mexico City scenario had laid the foundation for 
blaming the president's upcoming murder on Cuba and the U.S.S.R., thereby 
providing the rationale in its aftermath for an invasion of Cuba and a pos- 
sible nuclear attack on Russia. 

The alarming implications of the CIA's Mexico City case against Oswald 
had to be faced on the morning after the assassination by the new president, 
Lyndon Baines Johnson. As a result of the public disclosure under the JFK 
Act of LB J's taped conversations, we now know how Johnson was informed 
of the CIA setup. Michael Beschloss, editor of the Johnson tapes, tells us that 
at 9:20 A.M. on November 23, 1963, Johnson was briefed by CIA director 
John McCone about "information on foreign connections to the alleged 
assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, which suggested to LBJ that Kennedy may 
have been murdered by an international conspiracy." 144 Then at 10:01 A.M. 
Johnson received a phone briefing on Oswald from FBI director J. Edgar 
Hoover. It included the following exchange: 

LBJ: "Have you established any more about the visit to the Soviet 
embassy in Mexico in September?" 

Hoover: "No, that's one angle that's very confusing, for this reason 
we have up here the tape and the photograph of the man who was at the 
Soviet embassy, using Oswald's name. That picture and the tape do not 
correspond to this man's voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it 
appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet embassy down 
there. We do have a copy of a letter which was written by Oswald to the 
Soviet embassy here in Washington [a November 9, 1963, letter that 
Oswald began by referring to 'my meetings with comrade Kostin in the 
Embassy of the Soviet Union, Mexico City, Mexico,' which was inter- 
preted to mean Kostikov] 145 . . . Now if we can identify this man who was 
at the . . . Soviet embassy in Mexico City . . . " 146 

Having just been briefed on Oswald by CIA director McCone, Johnson 
was anxious to get to the bottom of "the visit to the Soviet embassy in Mex- 
ico in September." Hoover's briefing adds to Johnson's anxiety. Hoover con- 
fronts Johnson with strong evidence of an Oswald impostor at the Soviet 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


Embassy: "The tape and the photograph of the man who was at the Soviet 
embassy" do not correspond to "this man's [Oswald's] voice, nor to his 
appearance." Hoover says he has the proof: "We have up here the tape and 
the photograph of the man who was at the Soviet embassy, using Oswald's 
name." Hoover knows very well that the falsified evidence of a Cuban-Soviet 
plot to kill Kennedy (which Johnson has just been given by McCone) came 
from the CIA. Hoover simply gives Johnson the raw fact of an Oswald 
impostor in Mexico City, then lets Johnson chew on its implications. 
Hoover's own reaction to the CIA's Mexico City subterfuge was recorded 
seven weeks later, when he scribbled at the bottom of an FBI memorandum 
about keeping up with CIA operations in the United States: "O.K., but I 
hope you are not being taken in. I can't forget the CIA withholding the 
French espionage activities in the USA nor the false story re Oswald's trip to 
Mexico, only to mention two instances of their double-dealing." 147 

Lyndon Johnson's CIA and FBI briefings left him with two unpalatable 
interpretations of Mexico City. According to the CIA, Oswald was part of a 
Cuban-Soviet assassination plot that was revealed by the audio-visual mate- 
rials garnered by its surveillance techniques. According to Hoover, Oswald 
had been impersonated in Mexico City, as shown by a more critical exami- 
nation of the same CIA materials. Hoover left it to Johnson to draw his own 
conclusions as to who was responsible for that impersonation. 

The CIA's case scapegoated Cuba and the U.S.S.R. through Oswald for the 
president's assassination and steered the United States toward an invasion 
of Cuba and a nuclear attack on the U.S.S.R. However, LBJ did not want to 
begin and end his presidency with a global war. 

Hoover's view suggested CIA complicity in the assassination. Even assum- 
ing for the moment that Johnson himself was innocent of any foreknowledge 
or involvement in the plot, nevertheless for the new president to confront the 
CIA over Kennedy's murder, in a war within the U.S. government, would have 
been at least as frightening for him as an international crisis. 

One must give the CIA (and the assassination sponsors that were even 
further in the shadows) their due for having devised and executed a brilliant 
setup. They had played out a scenario to Kennedy's death in Dallas that pres- 
sured other government authorities to choose among three major options: a 
war of vengeance against Cuba and the Soviet Union based on the CIA's false 
Mexico City documentation of a Communist assassination plot; a domestic 
political war based on the same documents seen truly, but a war the CIA 
would fight with every covert weapon at its command; or a complete cover- 
up of any conspiracy evidence and a silent coup d'etat that would reverse 
Kennedy's efforts to end the Cold War. Lyndon Johnson, for his part, took 

little time to choose the only option he felt would leave him with a country 
to govern. He chose to cover up everything and surrender to Cold War pre- 
rogatives. However, he was not about to attack Cuba and the U.S.S.R. His 
quick personal acceptance of what had to be would only emerge more grad- 
ually in public. Rather than end it all quickly and heroically against Castro 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

and Khrushchev, he would ride gently, through the 1964 election, into the full 
fury of Vietnam. 

Once the CIA realized its Mexico City scenario was being questioned and 
could implicate not the Communists but the CIA itself in the assassination, 
the Mexico City Station back-pedaled to cover up the false evidence. It began 
to say that its audiotapes of the "Oswald" phone calls to the Soviet Embassy 
had been routinely destroyed, and therefore no voice comparisons were pos- 
sible to determine if the speaker really was Oswald. 148 (This bogus CIA claim 
was being made at the same time that Hoover and the FBI were listening to 
their own copies of the tapes, then making voice comparisons, and report- 
ing their provocative conclusions to President Lyndon Johnson.) Thus, on 
November 23, Mexico City CIA employee Ann Goodpasture, an assistant to 
David Phillips, sent a cable to CIA headquarters in which she reported the 
Saturday, September 28, call, then stated: "Station unable compare voice as 
first tape erased prior receipt second call." 149 On the next day, Mexico City 
cabled headquarters that it was now unable to locate any tapes at all for 
comparisons with Oswald's voice: "Regret complete recheck shows tapes for 
this period already erased." 150 After an extensive analysis, the House Select 
Committee's Lopez Report concluded that these and other CIA statements 
about tapes having been erased before voice comparisons could be made 
conflicted with sworn testimony, the information on other cables, and the 
station's own wiretapping procedure. 151 Although FBI director Hoover was 
angry at not having been let in initially by the CIA on "the false story re 
Oswald's trip to Mexico," from this point on the FBI cooperated in revising 
its story, too, to cover the CIA's tracks. 

Unknown to ordinary citizens watching President Kennedy's funeral on 
their television sets, the agencies of a national security state had quickly 
formed a united front behind the official mourning scenes to cover up every 
aspect of JFK's assassination. National security policies toward enemies 
beyond the state (with whom the slain president had been negotiating a truce) 
made necessary the denial of every trace of conspiracy within the state. As a 
saddled, riderless horse followed the coffin through the capital's streets, plau- 
sible deniability had come home to haunt the nation. 

On November 25, 1963, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzen- 
bach sent a memorandum to Bill Moyers, President Johnson's press secretary, 
urging a premature identification of Oswald as the lone assassin lest specu- 
lation of either a Communist or a right-wing conspiracy get out of hand: 

" 1 . The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did 
not have confederates who are still at large; and that the evidence was such 
that he would have been convicted at trial. 

"2. Speculation about Oswald's motivation ought to be cut off, and we 
should have some basis for rebutting thought that this was a Communist 
conspiracy or (as the Iron Curtain press is saying) a right-wing conspiracy to 
blame it on the Communists. Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about 
too pat — too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)." 152 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


To rebut any thought of either kind of conspiracy, Katzenbach's memo- 
randum recommended "the appointment of a Presidential Commission of 
unimpeachable personnel to review and examine the evidence and announce 
its conclusions." 153 

Before Lyndon Johnson jettisoned the CIA's Mexico City case against 
Cuba and the Soviet Union, he used it (without Hoover's reference to an 
impostor) as a lever to help put together just such a presidential commission 
of respected Cold War leaders. He ensured the commission's public accept- 
ance by convincing Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to chair it. 
Warren at first refused to become Johnson's pawn. However, in a taped 
phone conversation on Friday, November 29, LBJ described to Senator 
Richard Russell how he had co-opted Warren's conscience, by an argument 
that accepted at face value the CIA's Mexico City evidence. Johnson then 
manipulated Russell onto the commission, using the same Mexico City argu- 
ment with which he had coerced Warren: 

LBJ: "Warren told me he wouldn't do it under any circumstances. Did- 
n't think a Supreme Court Justice ought to go on . . . 

"He came down here and told me no — twice. And I just pulled out 
what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City and I said, 
'Now I don't want Mr. Khrushchev to be told tomorrow — and be testify- 
ing before a camera that he killed this fellow and that Castro killed him 
and all I want you to do is look at the facts and bring in any other facts 
you want in here and determine who killed the President.'" 154 

Russell told LBJ that he couldn't work with Warren, but to no avail: 

RUSSELL: "Now, Mr. President, I don't have to tell you of my devotion 
to you, but I just can't serve on that commission. I'm highly honored you'd 
think about me in connection with it. But I couldn't serve on it with Chief 
Justice Warren. I don't like that man ..." 

LBJ: "Dick, it has already been announced. And you can serve with 
anybody for the good of America. And this is a question that has a good 
many more ramifications than on the surface. And we've got to take this 
out of the arena where they're testifying that Khrushchev and Castro did 
this and did that and kicking us into a war that can kill forty million 
Americans in an hour . . . 

"... The Secretary of State came over here this afternoon. He's deeply 
concerned, Dick, about the idea that they're spreading throughout the 
Communist world that Khrushchev killed Kennedy. Now he didn't. He 
didn't have a damned thing to do with it." 

RUSSELL: "I don't think he did directly. I know Khrushchev didn't 
because he thought he'd get along better with Kennedy." 155 

Russell's final remark shows his own sense of the differences between 
Kennedy and Johnson and of the foreign policy changes that began at Dal- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

las. As tapes editor Michael Beschloss notes, "Russell means [Khrushchev 
thought he'd get along] better with Kennedy than Johnson." 

In November 1963, it could also be said of Fidel Castro that he, too, 
thought he'd get along better with Kennedy. Castro's openness toward 
Kennedy was confirmed in November by JFK's unofficial envoy to Castro, 
French correspondent Jean Daniel. 

fter his meeting with President Kennedy, Jean Daniel spent the first three 
weeks of November touring Cuba and interviewing people from every 
sector of the society, but without ever gaining access to Fidel Castro. He was 
told Castro was snowed under with work and had no desire to receive any 
more Western journalists. Daniel almost gave up hope of seeing him. Then 
on November 19, the eve of Daniel's scheduled departure from Havana, Cas- 
tro suddenly showed up at his hotel. Fidel had heard of Daniel's interview 
with Kennedy. He was eager to learn the details of their conversation. Cas- 
tro knew from the secret Attwood-Lechuga meetings that Kennedy was 
reaching out to him. In fact even as Daniel was trying to see Castro, Castro 
had been trying to firm up negotiations with Kennedy through Lisa Howard 

and William Attwood. We will fill in that part of the story before taking up 
the extraordinary conversation between Castro and Daniel that went right 

up to and through the hour of JFK's assassination. 

On October 29, after a week of leaving phone messages for Lisa Howard, 
Castro's aide Rene Vallejo finally reached Howard at her home. He assured 
her that Castro was as eager as he had been during her visit in April to 
improve relations with the United States. However, it was impossible for 
Castro to leave Cuba at that time to go to the UN or elsewhere for talks with 
a Kennedy representative. Howard told Vallejo there was now a U.S. official 
authorized to listen to Castro. Vallejo said he would relay that message to 
Castro and call her back soon. 156 

On October 31, Vallejo phoned Howard again, saying "Castro would 
very much like to talk to the U.S. official anytime and appreciated the impor- 
tance of discretion to all concerned." 157 The phrase "to all concerned" was 

significant. At this point Castro, like Kennedy and Khrushchev, was circum- 
venting his own more bellicose government in order to talk with the enemy. 
Castro, too, was struggling to transcend his Cold War ideology for the sake 
of peace. Like Kennedy and Khrushchev, he had to walk softly. He was now 
prepared to negotiate with a peacemaking U.S. president just as secretly as 
he had plotted guerrilla warfare against Batista. Thus, Vallejo said Castro 
was "willing to send a plane to Mexico to pick up the official and fly him to 
a private airport near Varadero, where Castro would talk to him alone. The 
plane would fly him back immediately after the talk. In this way there would 
be no risk of identification at the Havana airport." 158 Howard told Vallejo 
she doubted if a U.S. official could come to Cuba. Could Vallejo, as Castro's 
personal spokesman, come to meet the U.S. official at the UN or in Mexico? 
Vallejo replied that "Castro wanted to do the talking himself," but wouldn't 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


rule out that possibility if there were no other way to engage in a dialogue 
with Kennedy. 159 

Howard reported the Vallejo calls to Attwood, who in turn relayed the 
information to the White House. On November 5, Attwood met with 
Kennedy's National Security Adviser, McGeorge Bundy, and Gordon Chase 
of the National Security Council staff. He filled them in on Castro's eager- 
ness to facilitate a dialogue with Kennedy. On November 8, at Chase's 
request, Attwood put all this in a memorandum. 160 There were now two 
weeks left before Kennedy would be in Dallas. 

On November 1 1, Rene Vallejo phoned Lisa Howard again on behalf of 
Castro to reiterate their "appreciation of the need for security." 161 He said 
Castro would go along with any arrangements Kennedy's representatives 
might want to make. He was again willing to provide a plane, if that would 
be helpful. As Attwood reported to the White House, Castro through Vallejo 
"specifically suggested that a Cuban plane could come to Key West and pick 
up the emissary; alternatively they would agree to have him come in a U.S. 
plane which could land at one of several 'secret airfields' near Havana. 
[Vallejo] emphasized that only Castro and himself would be present at the 
talks and that no one else — he specifically mentioned Guevara — would be 
involved." 162 As both sides of the prospective negotiations knew, Che Gue- 
vara, like many of Castro's associates, was opposed to a rapprochement with 
Kennedy. Castro was reassuring Kennedy of his independence from the oppo- 
sition in his own government. 

On November 12, after hearing Attwood's report, McGeorge Bundy said 
that before a meeting with Castro himself there should be a preliminary talk 
with Vallejo at the United Nations to find out specifically what Castro 
wanted to talk about. 163 

On November 14, Lisa Howard relayed this information to Rene Vallejo, 
who said he would discuss it with Castro. 164 

On November 18, Howard called Vallejo again. This time she passed the 
phone to Attwood. At the other end of the line Fidel Castro was listening in 
on the Vallejo-Attwood conversation, as he would tell Attwood many years 
later. 165 Attwood asked Vallejo if he could come to New York for a prelimi- 
nary meeting. Vallejo said he could not come at that time but that "we" 
would send instructions to Lechuga to propose and discuss with Attwood 
"an agenda" for a later meeting with Castro. Attwood said he would await 
Lechuga's call. 

Thus the stage was being set, four days before Dallas, for the beginning 
of a Kennedy-Castro dialogue on U.S.-Cuban relations. Both Kennedy and 
Castro, with the encouragement and support of Nikita Khrushchev, were lis- 
tening to the high notes of a song of peace their governments were still unable 
to hear. As carefully as porcupines making love, they were preparing to 
engage in a dialogue on the strange proposition that the United States and 
Cuba might actually be able to live together in peace. 

Unaware of these behind-the-scenes developments, Jean Daniel was 
shocked by the sudden appearance of Fidel Castro at his Havana hotel the 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

night of November 19. Castro wanted to hear about Kennedy. He met with 
Daniel in his room for six straight hours, 10:00 P.M. to 4:00 A.M. The inter- 
viewer became the interviewee. Castro turned the interview around, so that 
he could absorb every meaning and nuance from Daniel's recitation of his 
conversation with Kennedy. Daniel described later Castro's reaction to the 
explicit and subliminal messages he was receiving from the president, 
through the medium of his "unofficial envoy," two and a half days before 
Kennedy's death: 

"Fidel listened with devouring and passionate interest: He pulled at his 
beard, yanked his parachutist's beret down over his eyes, adjusted his maqui 
tunic, all the while making me the target of a thousand malicious sparks cast 
by his deep-sunk, lively eyes. At one point I felt as though I were playing the 
role of that partner with whom he had as strong a desire to confer as to do 
battle; as though I myself were in a small way that intimate enemy in the 
White House whom Khrushchev described to Fidel as someone with whom 
'it is possible to talk.' Three times he had me repeat certain remarks, partic- 
ularly those in which Kennedy expressed his criticism of the Batista regime, 
those in which Kennedy showed his impatience with the comments attributed 
to General de Gaulle, and lastly those in which Kennedy accused Fidel of 
having almost caused a war fatal to all humanity." 166 

When Daniel finished speaking, he waited, expecting an explosion. Instead 
Castro was silent for a long while. He knew Daniel was returning to Wash- 
ington, so the U.S. president could hear of the Cuban premier's response to 
his overture. In essence their dialogue had already begun, even before Cas- 
tro's meeting with Kennedy's representative Attwood — a meeting that would 
soon be struck down, with a world of other possibilities, in Dallas. Finally 
Castro spoke, weighing his words. 

"I believe Kennedy is sincere," he began. "I also believe that today the 
expression of this sincerity could have political significance. I'll explain what 
I mean," he said, then gave a sharp critique of Kennedy that at the same time 
revealed his unique understanding of the president's situation: 

"I haven't forgotten that Kennedy centered his electoral campaign against 
Nixon on the theme of firmness toward Cuba. I have not forgotten the 
Machiavellian tactics and the equivocation, the attempts at invasion, the 
pressures, the blackmail, the organization of a counter-revolution, the block- 
ade and, above everything, all the retaliatory measures which were imposed 
before, long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism. But I feel 
that he inherited a difficult situation; I don't think a President of the United 
States is ever really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact 
of this lack of freedom. I also believe he now understands the extent to which 
he has been misled, especially, for example, on Cuban reaction at the time of 
the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion." 167 

Castro was stung by Kennedy's charge that he bore the primary respon- 
sibility for having brought humanity to the brink of nuclear war in the mis- 
sile crisis. He responded with his own reading of that history, in a way that 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


would have deeply challenged Kennedy in turn, had he lived to hear it from 


"Six months before these missiles were installed in Cuba, we had received 
an accumulation of information warning us that a new invasion of the island 

was being prepared under sponsorship of the Central Intelligence Agency, 
whose administrators were humiliated by the Bay of Pigs disaster and by the 
spectacle of being ridiculed in the eyes of the world and berated in US gov- 
ernment circles. [Castro had put his finger on a critical period in U.S. history, 
when the CIA's leaders from the Bay of Pigs hated Kennedy with a passion 
that only Castro, the other target of their hatred, could intuit.] We also knew 
that the Pentagon was vesting the CIA preparations with the mantle of its 
authority, but we had doubts as to the attitude of the President. There were 
those among our informants who even thought it would suffice to alert the 
President and give him cause for concern in order to arrest these prepara- 
tions. [If Castro had then, like Khrushchev, taken the risk of initiating a secret 
correspondence with Kennedy, what might he and JFK have seen together?] 
Then one day Khrushchev's son-in-law, Adzhubei, came to pay us a visit 
before going on to Washington at the invitation of Kennedy's associates. 
Immediately upon arriving in Washington, Adzhubei had been received by 
the American Chief Executive, and their talk centered particularly on Cuba. 

A week after this interview, we received in Havana a copy of Adzhubei's 
report to Khrushchev. It was this report which triggered the whole situation. 

"What did Kennedy say to Adzhubei? Now listen to this carefully," Cas- 
tro urged Daniel, "for it is very important: he had said that the new situa- 
tion in Cuba was intolerable for the United States, that the American 
government had decided it would not tolerate it any longer, he had said that 
peaceful coexistence was seriously compromised by the fact that 'Soviet influ- 
ences' in Cuba altered the balance of strength, was destroying the equilibrium 
agreed upon and [at this point Castro emphasized his statement to Daniel by 
pronouncing each syllable separately] Kennedy reminded the Russians that 
the United States had not intervened in Hungary, which was obviously a 
way of demanding Russian non-intervention in the event of a possible inva- 
sion. To be sure, the actual word 'invasion' was not mentioned and 
Adzhubei, at the time, lacking any background information, could not draw 
the same conclusion as we did. But when we communicated to Khrushchev 
all our previous information, the Russians too began to interpret the 
Kennedy-Adzhubei conversation as we saw it and they went to the source of 
our information. By the end of a month, the Russian and Cuban govern- 
ments had reached the definite conviction that an invasion might take place 
from one moment to the next. This is the truth." 

At this point Castro was speaking to Daniel as if he were Kennedy himself. 

"What was to be done? How could we prevent the invasion? We found 
that Khrushchev was concerned about the same things that were worrying 
us. He asked us what we wanted. We replied: do whatever is needed to con- 
vince the United States that any attack on Cuba is the same as an attack on 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the Soviet Union. And how to realize this objective? All our thinking and 
discussions revolved around this point. We thought of a proclamation, an 
alliance, conventional military aid. The Russians explained to us that their 
concern was twofold: first, they wanted to save the Cuban revolution (in 
other words, their socialist honor in the eyes of the world), and at the same 
time they wished to avoid a world conflict. They reasoned that if conven- 
tional military aid was the extent of their assistance, the United States might 
not hesitate to instigate an invasion, in which case Russia would retaliate 
and this would inevitably touch off a world war . . . 

"... Soviet Russia was confronted by two alternatives: an absolutely 
inevitable war (because of their commitments and their position in the social- 
ist world), if the Cuban revolution was attacked; or the risk of a war if the 
United States, refusing to retreat before the missiles, would not give up the 
attempt to destroy Cuba. They chose socialist solidarity and the risk of war. 

". . . In a word, then we agreed to the emplacement of the missiles. And 
I might add here that for us Cubans it didn't really make so much difference 
whether we died by conventional bombing or a hydrogen bomb. Neverthe- 
less, we were not gambling with the peace of the world. The United States 
was the one to jeopardize the peace of mankind by using the threat of war 
to stifle revolutions." 168 

In the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis itself, Kennedy had had sufficient 
detachment to understand Khrushchev's position so as not to back his adver- 
sary into a corner. Would he have also been able to understand Castro's 
counter-challenge to his understanding of the cause of that crisis? 

Castro went on to discuss Kennedy's Alliance for Progress in Latin Amer- 
ica with surprising sympathy. "In a way," he said, "it was a good idea, it 
marked progress of a sort. Even if it can be said that it was overdue, timid, 
conceived on the spur of the moment, under constraint . . . despite all that, 
I am willing to agree that the idea in itself constituted an effort to adapt to 
the extraordinarily rapid course of events in Latin America." 169 

Castro added, however, his political assessment that "Kennedy's good 
ideas aren't going to yield any results. It is very easy to understand and at this 
point he surely is aware of this because, as I told you, he is a realist. For 
years and years American policy — not the government, but the trusts and 
the Pentagon — has supported the Latin American oligarchies. All the prestige, 
the dollars, and the power was held by a class which Kennedy himself has 
described in speaking of Batista." 

Kennedy's statement that "Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins 
on the part of the United States" that "now we shall have to pay for" inspired 
Castro to an understanding of how dangerous life was becoming for 
Kennedy. "Suddenly a President arrives on the scene," he said, "who tries to 
support the interests of another class (which has no access to any of the levers 
of power) to give the various Latin American countries the impression that 
the United States no longer stands behind the dictators, and so there is no 
more need to start Castro-type revolutions. What happens then? The trusts 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


see that their interests are being a little compromised (just barely, but still 
compromised); the Pentagon thinks the strategic bases are in danger; the 
powerful oligarchies in all the Latin American countries alert their American 

friends; they sabotage the new policy; and in short, Kennedy has everyone 
against him." 170 

Fidel Castro saw the isolation in which John Kennedy had been placed by 
even the moderate reforms of his Alliance for Progress. And he understood 
the much deeper waters Kennedy was negotiating by his beginning detente 
with Nikita Khrushchev, and by his now initiating a dialogue with Castro 
himself. Kennedy's courage gave him hope. As the hand of the clock in 
Daniel's hotel room neared 4:00 A.M. on November 20, Castro expressed his 
hope for Kennedy: 

"I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North Amer- 
ica (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favor!), who will be willing to 
brave unpopularity, fight the trusts, tell the truth and, most important, let the 
various nations act as they see fit. Kennedy could still be this man. He still 
has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President 
of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be 
coexistence between capitalists and socialists, even in the Americas. He 
would then be an even greater President than Lincoln." 171 

Castro's view of Kennedy was changing. He had been influenced espe- 
cially by his pro-Kennedy tutorial in the Soviet Union with Nikita 
Khrushchev. "I know," Castro told Daniel, "that for Khrushchev, Kennedy 
is a man you can talk with. I have gotten this impression from all my con- 
versations with Khrushchev." 172 

Like Khrushchev, Castro hoped to work with the U.S. president during his 
second four-year term to fulfill a vision of coexistence. He joked with Daniel 
that maybe he could help Kennedy's campaign for reelection. He said with a 
broad, boyish grin, "If you see him again, you can tell him that I'm willing to 

declare Goldwater my friend if that will guarantee Kennedy's re-election!" 173 
On the afternoon of November 22, Jean Daniel was having lunch with 
Fidel Castro in the living room of his summer home on Varadero Beach. It 
was 1:30 P.M. in the time zone Havana shared with Washington. While 
Daniel questioned Castro again about the missile crisis, the phone rang. A 
secretary in a guerrilla uniform said Mr. Dorticos, President of the Cuban 
Republic, had an urgent message for the prime minister. Castro took the 
phone. Daniel heard him say, "Como? Un atentado?" ("What's that? An 
attempted assassination?"). He turned to tell Daniel and the secretary that 
Kennedy had been struck down in Dallas. Castro returned to the phone. He 
exclaimed loudly, "Herido? Muy gravemente?" ("Wounded? Very seri- 
ously?"). 174 

When Castro had hung up the phone, he repeated three times, "£s una 
mala noticia." ("This is bad news"). He remained silent, waiting for another 
call with more news. As he began to speculate on who might have targeted 
Kennedy, a second call came in: The hope was that the president was still 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

alive and could be saved. Castro said with evident satisfaction, "If they can, 
he is already re-elected." 175 

Just before 2:00 P.M., Castro and Daniel waited by a radio for more news. 
Rene Vallejo, Castro's liaison for the Kennedy negotiations, stood by. He 
translated the NBC reports coming in from Miami. Finally the words came 
through: President Kennedy was dead. 

Castro stood up, looked at Daniel, and said, "Everything is changed. 
Everything is going to change." 176 

fter the death of JFK, Lyndon Johnson put on permanent hold any dia- 
logue between the White House and Fidel Castro, who kept seeking it. 
On December 4, William Attwood was told by Carlos Lechuga at the United 
Nations that "he now had a letter from Fidel himself, instructing him to talk 
with me about a specific agenda." 177 Attwood asked the White House for its 
response to Castro. Gordon Chase said all policies were in the course of 
being reviewed by the new administration and advised patience. 178 Attwood 
did not know that, with the lightning change of presidents, former rap- 
prochement proponent Chase had felt a corresponding change in the politi- 
cal climate and was now among those who were already turning Kennedy's 
policy around. On November 25 Chase had written a memorandum to 

National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy that stated: "Basically, the events 
of November 22 would appear to make accommodation with Castro an even 
more doubtful issue than it was. While I think that President Kennedy could 
have accommodated with Castro and gotten away with it with a minimum 
of domestic heat, I'm not sure about President Johnson." 179 

Chase also recognized that the pro-Castro image of Oswald was not help- 
ful: "In addition, the fact that Lee Oswald has been heralded as a pro-Cas- 
tro type may make rapprochement with Cuba more difficult — although it is 
hard to say how much more difficult." 180 

Therefore, Kennedy's former dialogue advocate wrote, "If one concludes 
that the prospects for accommodation with Castro are much dimmer than 
they were before November 22, then Bill Attwood's present effort loses much 
of its meaning." 181 

After being put off by Chase for two weeks, Attwood finally had a chance 
to hear from President Johnson himself, when Johnson visited the U.S. del- 
egation to the United Nations in New York on December 1 7. Attwood was 
simply told by Johnson at lunch that "he'd read my chronological account 
of our Cuban initiative 'with interest.'" 182 

"And that was it," Attwood wrote two decades later in describing the end 
of "the Cuban connection." 183 It had in fact died on November 22, 1963, 
with John Kennedy. It would not be revived by any other U.S. president in 
the twentieth century. 

Against increasing odds, the Cuban side of the connection had still not 

Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA 


given up. Inspired by his progress with Kennedy, Castro continued to seek a 
dialogue with the United States, in spite of President Johnson's silence in 
response to his overtures. In February 1964, Lisa Howard returned from 
another news assignment in Cuba carrying an unusual memorandum, a "ver- 
bal message" addressed to Lyndon Johnson from Fidel Castro. In his message 
Castro went to extraordinary lengths to encourage Johnson to emulate 
Kennedy's courage in attempting a dialogue with their number one enemy, 
himself. That enemy had been won over to the dialogue, first, by the coun- 
sel of Kennedy's other enemy Khrushchev, then by the courage of Kennedy 
himself. Now Castro was using the example of Kennedy to encourage John- 
son simply to talk with the enemy. He was also speaking much less like an 
enemy than a potentially helpful friend. It was as if Kennedy, in crossing a 
divide, had taken Castro with him. Castro said to Howard: 

"Tell the President that I understand quite well how much political 
courage it took for President Kennedy to instruct you [Lisa Howard] and 
Ambassador Attwood to phone my aide in Havana for the purpose of com- 
mencing a dialogue toward a settlement of our differences ... I hope that we 
can soon continue where Ambassador Attwood's phone conversation to 
Havana left off . . . though I'm aware that pre-electoral political considera- 
tions may delay this approach until after November. 

"Tell the President (and I cannot stress this too strongly) that I seriously 
hope that Cuba and the United States can eventually sit down in an atmos- 
phere of good will and of mutual respect and negotiate our differences. I 
believe that there are no areas of contention between us that cannot be dis- 
cussed and settled in a climate of mutual understanding. But first, of course, 
it is necessary to discuss our differences. I now believe that this hostility 
between Cuba and the United States is both unnatural and unnecessary 
and it can be eliminated . . . 

"Tell the President I realize fully the need for absolute secrecy, if he should 
decide to continue the Kennedy approach. I revealed nothing at that time 
. . . I have revealed nothing since ... I would reveal nothing now." 184 

Just how far Castro was willing to go to promote a dialogue with 
Kennedy's successor was shown by his willingness to help Johnson's presi- 
dential campaign, even by calling off Cuban retaliation to a hostile U.S. 

"If the President feels it necessary during the campaign to make bellicose 
statements about Cuba or even to take some hostile action — if he will inform 
me, unofficially, that a specific action is required because of domestic polit- 
ical considerations, I shall understand and not take any serious retaliatory 
action." 185 

Although Johnson as usual made no reply to this message, Castro kept try- 
ing to communicate with him through Lisa Howard and UN ambassador 
Adlai Stevenson. (William Attwood was no longer in the loop, having been 
appointed U.S. ambassador to Kenya in January 1964.) On June 26, 1964, 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Stevenson wrote a "Secret and Personal" memo to Johnson saying Castro felt 
that "all of our crises could be avoided if there was some way to communi- 
cate; that for want of anything better, he assumed that he could call 
[Howard] and she call me and I would advise you." 186 Again Johnson gave 
no response. 

Castro even enlisted the help of Cuban Minister of Industry Ernesto 
"Che" Guevara, previously an opponent to dialogue, in what had become a 
Cuban diplomatic offensive for negotiations with the United States. During 
Guevara's December 1964 visit to the United Nations, he tried to arrange a 
secret meeting with a White House or State Department representative but 
was unsuccessful. Finally Guevara met with Senator Eugene McCarthy at 
Lisa Howard's apartment. The next day McCarthy reported to Under Sec- 
retary of State George Ball that Guevara's purpose was "to express Cuban 
interest in trade with the U.S. and U.S. recognition of the Castro regime." 187 
Ball rewarded McCarthy by admonishing him for even meeting with Gue- 
vara, because there was "suspicion throughout Latin America that the U.S. 
might make a deal with Cuba behind the backs of the other American 
states." 188 Ball told McCarthy to say nothing publicly about the meeting. 
When Lyndon Johnson ignored this Cuban initiative as well, Castro gave up 
on him. He realized that John Kennedy's successor as president had no inter- 
est whatsoever in speaking with Fidel Castro, no matter what he had to say. 

In the 1970s, Fidel Castro reflected on a peculiar fact of Cold War history 
that related closely to the story of John Kennedy. Thanks to the decisions 
made by Khrushchev and Kennedy, "in the final balance Cuba was not 
invaded and there was no world war. We did not, therefore, have to suffer a 
war like Vietnam — because many Americans could ask themselves, why a 
war in Vietnam, thousands of miles away, why millions of tons of bombs 
dropped on Vietnam and not in Cuba? It was much more logical for the 
United States to do this to Cuba than to do it ten thousand kilometers 
away." 189 

Castro's comparison between Cuba and Vietnam provokes further ques- 
tions about John Kennedy. If JFK had the courage to resist the CIA and the 
Pentagon on Cuba, as Castro recognized, how could he have allowed him- 
self to be sucked into the war in Vietnam? Or did he finally turn around on 
Vietnam in a way that paralleled his changes toward the Soviet Union and 
Cuba? Did John Kennedy ultimately make a decision for peace in Vietnam 
that would become the final nail in his coffin? 


JFK and Vietnam 

Ten years before he became president, John F. Kennedy learned that it 
would be impossible to win a colonial war in Vietnam. 

In 1951, when he was a young member of Congress, Kennedy visited Viet- 
nam with his twenty-two-year-old brother, Robert. At the time France was 
trying to reassert control over its pre- World War II colony of Indochina. 
Although the French army's commander in Saigon insisted to the Kennedys 
that his 250,000 troops couldn't possibly lose to the Viet Minh guerrillas, 
JFK knew better. He was convinced by the more skeptical view of Edmund 
Gullion, an official at the U.S. Consulate. Kennedy knew and trusted Gullion, 
who had helped him earlier as a speechwriter on foreign policy. 1 

At an evening meeting on top of a Saigon hotel, in a conversation punc- 
tuated by distant blasts from the Viet Minh's artillery, Gullion told Kennedy: 
"In twenty years there will be no more colonies. We're going nowhere out 
here. The French have lost. If we come in here and do the same thing, we 
will lose, too, for the same reason. There's no will or support for this kind 

of war back in Paris. The homefront is lost. The same thing would happen 
to us." 2 

After becoming president, Kennedy would cite Edmund Gullion's far- 
sighted analysis to his military advisers, as they pushed hard for the combat 
troops that JFK would never send to Vietnam. Instead, on October 11, 1963, 
six weeks before he was assassinated, President Kennedy issued his secret 
order for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in National Security Action Mem- 
orandum (NSAM) 263. 3 It was an order that would never be obeyed because 
of his murder. 

Kennedy had decided to pull out one thousand members of the U.S. mil- 
itary by the end of 1963, and all of them by the end of 1965. In the month 
and a half before his death, this welcome decision received front page head- 
lines in both the military and civilian press: in the Armed Forces' Pacific Stars 



JFK and the Unspeakable 

and Stripes, "White House Report: U.S. Troops Seen Out of Viet[nam] by 
*65"; 4 in the New York Times, "1,000 U.S. Troops to Leave Vietnam." 5 

However, because of the president's assassination, even the first phase of 
his withdrawal plan was quietly gutted. The Pentagon Papers, a revealing 
Defense Department history of the Vietnam War that was made public by 
defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, points out: "Plans for phased withdrawal 
of 1,000 U.S. advisers by end- 1963 went through the motions by concen- 
trating rotations home in December and letting strength rebound in the sub- 
sequent two months." 6 

JFK's decision to withdraw from Vietnam was part of the larger strategy 

for peace that he and Nikita Khrushchev had become mutually committed 
to, which in Kennedy's case would result in his death. Thomas Merton had 
seen it all coming. He had said prophetically in a Cold War letter that if Pres- 
ident Kennedy broke through to a deeper, more universal humanity, he would 
before long be "marked out for assassination." 7 Kennedy agreed. As we have 
seen, he even described the logic of a coming coup d'etat in his comments on 
the novel Seven Days in May. 8 JFK felt that his own demise was increasingly 

likely if he continued to buck his military advisers. He then proceeded to do 
exactly that. After vetoing the introduction of U.S. troops at the Bay of Pigs, 
he resisted the Joint Chiefs' even more intense pressures to bomb and invade 
Cuba in the October 1962 missile crisis. Then he simply ignored his military 
and CIA advisers by turning sharply toward peace in his American Univer- 
sity address, his Partial Test Ban Treaty with Nikita Khrushchev, and his 
quest for a dialogue with Fidel Castro. His October 1963 decision to with- 
draw from Vietnam once again broke the Cold War rule of his national secu- 
rity state. As Merton had hoped, Kennedy was breaking through to a deeper 
humanity — and to its fatal consequences. 

Yet for those who could see beyond the East-West conflict, Kennedy's 
high-risk steps for peace made political sense. Four decades after these events, 
we have lost their historical context. It was a time of hope. JFK, like many, 
was inspired by the yearning for peace spanning the world like a rainbow 
after the barely averted storm of the Cuban Missile Crisis. John Kennedy, 
Nikita Khrushchev, and even Khrushchev's Caribbean partner Fidel Castro 
were, in the relief of those months, all beginning to break free from their 
respective military establishments and ideologies. As 1963 began, political 
commentators sensed a new morning after the long night of the Cold War. 

For example, Drew Pearson in his Washington Merry-Go-Round column 
datelined January 23, 1963, headlined the presidential challenge of the year 
ahead, "Kennedy Has Chance to End the Cold War." Pearson stressed the 
need for the president to seize the time for peace: 

"President Kennedy today faces his greatest opportunity to negotiate a 
permanent peace, but because of division inside his own Administration he 
may miss the boat. 

"That is the consensus of friendly diplomats long trained in watching the 
ebb and flow of world events. 

JFK and Vietnam 


"They add that Europe is moving so fast that it may take the leadership 
away from Mr. Kennedy and patch up its own peace with Soviet Premier 
Khrushchev." 9 

The diplomats Pearson was drawing upon could already discern a massive 
shifting of political fault lines beneath the Kennedy-Khrushchev settlement 
of the missile crisis. At the same time they had identified the primary obsta- 
cle to an end of the Cold War — powerful forces in the U.S. government who 
did not believe in such a change, and who were throwing their weight 
against it. 

Pearson noted that, in spite of this deep opposition within the govern- 
ment, the president was nevertheless "sitting on top of the diplomatic world" 
in settling the problems of the Cold War. He cited Kennedy's decision to 
remove U.S. missiles from Turkey and Italy without fanfare: 

"This should decrease tension between the U.S.A. and USSR, but the 
United States has neither taken credit for it nor used it as Khrushchev used 
his removal of missiles from Cuba." 

Pearson was unaware that Kennedy was already collaborating with 
Khrushchev, and that the president's withdrawal of missiles was actually a 
quiet fulfillment of his October pledge to his Soviet counterpart. 

The columnist had interviewed Khrushchev at his villa on the shores of the 
Black Sea over a year before. He believed the Soviet leader sincerely wanted 
peace. Khrushchev's retreat from Cuba and his subsequent statements for 
peace reinforced that conclusion. "The latest," Pearson wrote in his January 
1963 column, "is his amazing speech in East Berlin last week in which he 
renounced war as an instrument of Communist policy." 

As a result of these swirling currents of change, the United States and the 
Soviet Union were on the "brink of peace," especially on nuclear testing and 
Berlin. However, Pearson emphasized, if the sharply divided Kennedy admin- 
istration kept "gazing passively at this rapidly changing picture," other West- 
ern leaders such as President de Gaulle would jump ahead of Kennedy and 
make their own peace with Khrushchev. The moment was ripe for change. 
Would the President seize it? In the hopeful summer of 1963, Kennedy 
responded to that question with his American University address, the Test 
Ban Treaty, and his deepening detente with Khrushchev. Then, showing that 
anything was becoming possible, Kennedy sought out a dialogue with his 
greatest nemesis, Fidel Castro. JFK's October decision to withdraw from 
Vietnam was the next logical step in the increasingly hopeful process that he 
and Khrushchev had become engaged in. 

These now forgotten winds of change in which John Kennedy had set sail 
in 1963 put him in the position of becoming a peacemaker while still com- 
manding a military force with the capacity to destroy the world many times 
over. He was trapped in a contradiction between the mandate of peace in his 
American University address and the continuing Cold War dogmas of his 
national security state. Kennedy heightened the conflict himself by getting 
caught up in Cold War rhetoric, as when he spoke dramatically to a vast 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

crowd in front of West Berlin's city hall on June 26, 1963. After seeing the 
barbarity of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. president said exuberantly, to his later 
chagrin, "there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with 
the Communists [as he himself had said and was doing]. Let them come to 
Berlin." 10 

Yet despite his own inner conflicts and the deeper tensions between him- 
self and his advisers, Kennedy had rejected the dominant mythology of his 
time, according to which a victory over Communism was the supreme value. 
Kennedy had chosen an alternative to victory — an end to the Cold War. He 
was breaking free from the contradiction of his Cold War presidency. To 
advisers like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that presidential turn from a reliance 
on war seemed like a surrender to the enemy. Whatever the president might 
say or do, the military knew they had their own mandate to follow — victory 
over the enemy. 

What is unrecognized about JFK's presidency, which then makes his assas- 
sination a false mystery, is that he was locked in a struggle with his national 
security state. That state had higher values than obedience to the orders of 
a president who wanted peace. The defeat of Communism was number one. 
As JFK sought an alternative to victory or defeat in a world of nuclear 
weapons, he became increasingly isolated in his own government. He had 
been freed from the demonizing theology of the Cold War by the grace of his 
deepening relationship to his enemy Khrushchev. At the same time he was 
forced to realize that, in his own administration, he was becoming more and 
more isolated. His isolation grew as he rejected his military advisers' most 
creatively destructive proposals on how to win the Cold War. 

On March 13, 1962, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whom 
Kennedy inherited from Eisenhower, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, proposed 
such a secret victory plan to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. It was 
called "Operation Northwoods." Its purpose was to justify a U.S. invasion 
of Cuba. Reading this clandestine Cold War proposal today gives one a sense 
of the mentality of Kennedy's military advisers and the victory schemes he 
was being urged to adopt. In "Operation Northwoods," General Lemnitzer 
recommended the following steps to pave the way for a U.S. invasion of 

"1. . . . Harassment plus deceptive actions to convince the Cubans of 
imminent invasion would be emphasized. Our military posture throughout 
execution of the plan will allow a rapid change from exercise to intervention 
if Cuban response justifies. 

"2. A series of well coordinated incidents will be planned to take place in 
and around [the U.S. Marine base at] Guantanamo to give genuine appear- 
ance of being done by hostile Cuban forces. 

Incidents to establish a credible attack (not in chronological order): 

(1) Start rumors (many). Use clandestine radio. 

(2) Land friendly Cubans in uniform 'over-the-fence' to stage attack 
on base. 

JFK and Vietnam 


(3) Capture Cuban (friendly) saboteurs inside the base. 

(4) Start riots near the base main gate (friendly Cubans). 

(5) Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. 

(6) Burn aircraft on air base (sabotage). 

(7) Lob mortar shells from outside of base into base. Some damage to 

(8) Capture assault teams approaching from the sea or vicinity of 
Guantanamo City. 

(9) Capture militia group which storms the base. 

(10) Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires — napthalene. 

(11) Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock-victims 
(may be lieu of (10)). 

b . United States would respond by executing offensive operations to secure 
water and power supplies, destroying artillery and mortar emplacements 
which threaten the base. 

c. Commence large scale United States military operations. 

"3. A 'Remember the Maine' incident could be arranged in several forms: 
We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. We could 
blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in the Cuban waters. We could 
arrange to cause such incident in the vicinity of Havana or Santiago as a 
spectacular result of Cuban attack from the air or sea, or both. The pres- 
ence of Cuban planes or ships merely investigating the intent of the vessel 
could be fairly compelling evidence that the ship was taken under attack. 
The nearness to Havana or Santiago would add credibility especially to those 
people that might have heard the blast or have seen the fire. The US could 
follow up with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US fighters to 'evacu- 
ate' remaining members of the non-existent crew. Casualty lists in US news- 
papers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation." 11 

General Lemnitzer's next recommendation in "Operation North woods" 
went even more deeply into deception and internal subversion. He urged the 
Secretary of Defense to support a campaign of terrorism within the United 
States as a necessary evil in overcoming Communist Cuba: 

"4. We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami 
area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. The terror campaign 
could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We 
could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated). We 
could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to 
the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. Exploding a few 
plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of Cuban agents and the 
release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would 
be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government." 12 

General Lemnitzer said he and the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to direct 
this terrorist campaign that would be blamed on Cuba. He wrote Secretary 
McNamara that he assumed "a single agency will be given the primary 
responsibility for developing military and para-military aspects of the basic 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

plan." He recommended "that this responsibility for both overt and covert 
military operations be assigned the Joint Chiefs of Staff." 13 

Lemnitzer submitted his "Operation North woods" proposal to McNa- 
mara at a meeting on March 13, 1962. There is no record of McNamara's 
response. 14 However, according to the record of a March 16 White House 
meeting, President Kennedy told Lemnitzer and other key advisers that he 
could not foresee any circumstances "that would justify and make desirable 
the use of American forces for overt military action" in Cuba. 15 

Although "Operation Northwoods" had been blocked by the president, 
General Lemnitzer kept pushing on behalf of the Joint Chiefs for a preemp- 
tive invasion of Cuba. In an April 10, 1962, memorandum to McNamara, 

he stated: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the Cuban problem must be 
solved in the near future . . . they believe that military intervention by the 
United States will be required to overthrow the present communist regime . . . 
They also believe that the intervention can be accomplished rapidly enough 
to minimize communist opportunities for solicitation of UN action." 16 

Kennedy had finally had enough of Lemnitzer. In September 1962 he 
replaced him as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, Lemnitzer 
was not alone in his beliefs. He claimed that his terrorist "Operation North- 
woods" had been backed by the entire Joint Chiefs. Kennedy's problem was 
not so much Lemnitzer per se as it was the Cold War mind-set of his govern- 
ment. He had to deal with a block of military and CIA leaders who justified 
any means whatever of defeating what they saw as the absolute evil of Com- 
munism. On the other hand, these men saw President Kennedy's agreement 
with Khrushchev not to invade Cuba, his withdrawal of missiles from Turkey 
and Italy, his American University address, the Test Ban Treaty, and his begin- 
ning dialogue with Castro, as the initial stages of a Communist victory. They 
held a dogmatic belief that they thought John Kennedy had forgotten, that 
there was no alternative to military might when it came to defeating Com- 
munism. They thought it was Kennedy, not themselves, who had gone off the 
deep end. The future of the country was in their hands. For the CIA and the 
Joint Chiefs, the question was: How could Kennedy's surrender to the Com- 
munists be stopped in time to save America? In their world of victory or 
defeat, JFK's decision to withdraw from Vietnam was the last straw. 

n the eve of his inauguration, Kennedy had shown his doubts about war 
in Southeast Asia. When he was given a transitional briefing by President 
Eisenhower on January 19, 1961, the president-elect asked an unexpected 
question. It pertained to the rising conflict with Communist forces in Laos, 
Vietnam's western neighbor. Which option would Eisenhower prefer, 
Kennedy asked, a "coalition with the Communists to form a government in 
Laos or intervening [militarily] through SEATO [the Southeast Asia Treaty 
Organization, to which the U.S. belonged]?" 17 Eisenhower was taken aback 
by his successor's gall in raising the possibility of a coalition with Commu- 

JFK and Vietnam 


nists. He said it would be "far better" to intervene militarily. As his Secretary 
of State, Christian Herter had already said, any coalition with the Commu- 
nists would end up with the Communists in control. Even unilateral inter- 
vention by U.S. troops was preferable to that. It would be "a last desperate 
effort to save Laos." 18 

Kennedy listened skeptically. He thought he was hearing a prescription 
for disaster, from a man who in a few hours would no longer have to bear 
any responsibility for it. 

"There he sat," he told friends later, "telling me to get ready to put ground 
forces into Asia, the thing he himself had been carefully avoiding for the last 
eight years." 19 

Kennedy knew, on the other hand, that by pursuing the question of a 

coalition with Communists he was initiating a policy struggle on Southeast 
Asia in his own administration. The CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with 
Eisenhower's support, had already assumed the burden of somehow "saving" 
Laos and Vietnam. These same men would now become Kennedy's advisers. 
Though a Cold Warrior himself, Kennedy was still too critical a thinker not 
to go ahead and question their consensus, by considering seriously what they 
felt was a dangerous accommodation with the enemy as preferable to a hope- 
less war in Asia. 

As The Pentagon Papers note, Vietnam was of relatively minor impor- 
tance in 1961, compared to Laos: "Vietnam in 1961 was a peripheral crisis. 
Even within Southeast Asia it received far less of the Administration's and the 
world's attention than did Laos." 20 For example, The New York Times Index 
for 1961 lists twenty-six columns of items on Laos, but only eight on Viet- 
nam. 21 For Kennedy, Laos was a crisis from the beginning, whose settlement 
would raise the question of Vietnam. 

On February 3, 1961, two weeks after he became president, Kennedy met 
alone with the U.S. ambassador to Laos, Winthrop Brown. The diplomat 
had a hard time believing his new president's desire to hear only the truth 
about Laos. As Brown was explaining the official policy, Kennedy stopped 
him. He said, "That's not what I asked you. I said, 'What do you think,' 
you, the Ambassador?" 22 Brown opened up. With the president concentrat- 
ing intently on his words, Brown critiqued the CIA's and the Pentagon's 
endorsement of the anti-communist ruler General Phoumi Nosavan. The 
autocratic general had risen to power through the CIA's formation, under 
the Eisenhower administration, of a Laotian "patriotic organization," the 
Committee for the Defense of the National Interest (CDNI). 23 Brown told 
Kennedy frankly that Laos could be united only under the neutralist Sou- 
vanna Phouma, whose government had been deposed by CIA-Pentagon 
forces under Eisenhower. JFK questioned Brown extensively about the pos- 
sibility of a neutral government under Souvanna that Britain, France, and 
the Soviet Union could all support, if the United States were to change pol- 
icy. 24 Years later, Brown recalled his hour-long conversation with the presi- 
dent on a neutralist Laos as "a very, very moving experience." 25 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

As Kennedy began to turn toward a neutral Laos, the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
stepped up their pressure for military intervention in support of General 
Phoumi. Their point was that the Communist Pathet Lao army, supported by 
the Soviet Union, China, and North Vietnam, would achieve complete con- 
trol over Laos unless the United States intervened quickly. Pushed by Cold 
War dynamics and Pathet Lao advances, Kennedy was tempted yet skeptical. 

In a March 9 meeting at the White House, he peppered his National Secu- 
rity Council with questions that exposed contradictions in U.S. policy and 
pointed the way toward a neutralist Laos. His questioning uncovered the 
uncomfortable truth that the United States had sent in much more military 
equipment in the past three months to aid Phoumi Nosavan than the Sovi- 
ets had in support of the Communist Pathet Lao forces. 26 The president then 
pointed out that it was "a basic problem to us that all the countries who are 
supposedly our allies favor the same person (Souvanna), as the Communists 
do." 27 JFK was about to join them. The next day, Kennedy's Soviet ambas- 
sador Llewellyn Thompson told Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow that the 

United States was now seeking a "neutralization of Laos accomplished by a 
commission of neutral neighbors." 28 Khrushchev was surprised at Kennedy's 
turnaround. He said the new American position differed agreeably from the 
old one. 29 

At a March 23 news conference on Laos, Kennedy made his policy change 
public by stating that the United States "strongly and unreservedly" sup- 
ported "the goal of a neutral and independent Laos, tied to no outside power 
or group of powers, threatening no one, and free from any domination." 30 

He endorsed the British appeal for a cease-fire between General Phoumi's 
army and the neutralist-communist forces arrayed against them. He also 
joined the British in calling for an international conference on Laos. 31 

The Russians agreed. Kennedy's new direction enabled the Russians to 
come together with the British, the Americans, and eleven other countries in 
Geneva on May 11 in an effort to resolve the question of Laos. 

In the meantime, however, Kennedy was being led to the brink of war. 
The Communist forces continued to advance in Laos. They seemed to be on 
their way to total victory before the Geneva Conference even convened. The 
president was determined not to let them overrun the country. At the same 
time, as his special counsel Ted Sorensen pointed out, he was unwilling "to 
provide whatever military backing was necessary to enable the pro-Western 
forces [of General Phoumi] to prevail. This was in effect the policy he had 
inherited — and he had also inherited most of the military and intelligence 
advisers who had formed it." 32 These men kept pressing him to turn back 
from the neutralist coalition he was pursuing, which they saw as a foolish 
concession to the Communists. In spite of the president's turn toward neu- 
tralism at his March 23 press conference, on March 30 General Lemnitzer 
told reporters that the neutralist leader Souvanna Phouma was not to be 
trusted. While Souvanna might not be a Communist, Lemnitzer said, "he 
couldn't be any worse if he were a communist." 33 

JFK and Vietnam 


Lemnitzer and the Joint Chiefs were resisting the president's new direction. 

They urged him instead to support Phoumi with U.S. combat troops to halt 

the Communist offensive before it was too late. Otherwise there would be 
nothing left to negotiate in Geneva, even in the direction of neutralism. As 

the crisis deepened in March and April, Kennedy agreed to preparations for 
a military buildup. However, he emphasized to everyone around him that he 
had not given a final go-ahead to intervene in Laos. 34 Then a series of events 
convinced him in time that he was being drawn into a trap. 

The first was the Bay of Pigs. As we have seen, Kennedy realized that the 
CIA and the Joint Chiefs had set him up at the Bay of Pigs for a full-scale 
invasion of Cuba, by a scenario designed to fail unless he agreed under over- 
whelming pressure to send in the troops. When he refused to go along and 
accepted the defeat, he refocused his attention more critically on Laos. The 
same CIA and military advisers who had deceived him on Cuba were urging 
him to intervene in Laos. Moreover, the Joint Chiefs kept revising upward the 
number of troops they wanted him to deploy there: asking initially for 
40,000; raising the number to 60,000 by the end of March; hiking it to 
140,000 by the end of April. 35 Kennedy began to balk at their scenarios. 
General Lemnitzer then cabled the president more cautiously from a trip to 
Laos, recommending a "more limited commitment" there. A suspicious JFK 
backed away from the entire idea of troops in Laos. As he told Schlesinger 
at the time, "If it hadn't been for Cuba, we might be about to intervene in 
Laos." Waving Lemnitzer's cables, he said, "I might have taken this advice 
seriously." 36 

Instead he questioned more sharply his military chiefs, exposing the holes 
in their thinking. At an April 28 meeting, Admiral Burke said to the presi- 
dent, "Each time you give ground [as he thought JFK was doing in Laos], it 
is harder to stand next time." Burke said the U.S. had to be prepared some- 
where in Southeast Asia to "throw enough in to win — the works." 37 Army 
general George H. Decker seconded Burke, saying, "If we go in, we should 
go in to win, and that means bombing Hanoi, China, and maybe even using 
nuclear weapons." 38 With his customary insolence toward the president, Air 
Force general Curtis LeMay told JFK the next day before a room full of 
national security advisers that he did not know what U.S. policy was on 
Laos. He underlined his disdain by adding that he knew what the president 
had said, but "the military had been unable to back up the President's state- 
ments." 39 At another meeting, General Lemnitzer provoked deeper questions 
in Kennedy about the Joint Chiefs by outlining a strategy of unlimited esca- 
lation in Southeast Asia, concluding, "If we are given the right to use nuclear 
weapons, we can guarantee victory." 40 The president looked at him, said 
nothing, and dismissed the meeting. Later he commented, "Since he could- 
n't think of any further escalation, he would have to promise us victory." 41 

In light of the Bay of Pigs and the chiefs' push for war in Laos, Kennedy 
told columnist Arthur Krock he had simply "lost confidence" in the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff. 42 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

A military authority who reinforced Kennedy's resistance to the Joint 
Chiefs was retired general Douglas MacArthur, who visited him in late April. 
MacArthur told the president, "Anyone wanting to commit American 
ground forces to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined." 43 
Kennedy cited MacArthur's judgment to his own generals for the duration 
of his presidency. To put U.S. combat troops into Laos or Vietnam was a 
line he adamantly refused to cross for the rest of his life. General Maxwell 
Taylor said MacArthur's statement made "a hell of an impression on the 
President ... so that whenever he'd get this military advice from the Joint 
Chiefs or from me or anyone else, he'd say, 'Well, now, you gentlemen, you 
go back and convince General MacArthur, then I'll be convinced.'" 44 

MacArthur made another statement, about the political situation Kennedy 
had inherited in Indochina, that struck the president so much that he dic- 
tated it in an oral memorandum of their conversation: "He said that 'the 

chickens are coming home to roost' from Eisenhower's years and I live in 
the chicken coop." 45 Malcolm X would become notorious for the same barn- 
yard saying after JFK was killed in the chicken coop. 

s John Kennedy began to take a stand against sending troops to South- 
east Asia that would become one more reason for his assassination, he 
met a man who would take equally strong stands on his behalf, Secret Serv- 
ice agent Abraham Bolden. 

In the Cold War years when JFK had been a congressman and a senator, 
Abe Bolden was a black kid growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois. By deter- 
mination and discipline, Bolden survived the inner-city war zone of East St. 
Louis. He then worked his way through Lincoln University in Jefferson City, 
Missouri. From the beginning to the end of his college days, Bolden walked 
to the beat of his own drummer. While other freshmen obeyed the hazing 
commands of upperclassmen, Bolden defied them, saying he would do noth- 
ing that was not included in the school manual. 46 He outraged campus opin- 
ion by writing a letter to the school paper challenging the granting of 

scholarships to star athletes who were poor students. Bolden graduated cum 
laude from Lincoln. A classmate said Abraham Bolden could be described 
"as foolish or as a man of courage, depending upon one's views," 47 a char- 
acterization that would be borne out by his journey into the life and death 
of John F. Kennedy. 

After serving as an Illinois state trooper for four years with an outstand- 
ing record, Bolden joined the U.S. Secret Service in 1960. He became an agent 
in its Chicago office. Thus it was that on the night of April 28, 1961, when 
President Kennedy came to speak at Chicago's McCormick Exposition Cen- 
ter, Abraham Bolden was standing outside a men's restroom to which he'd 

been assigned as security. Just as he was thinking that he'd probably never 
see Kennedy, he suddenly saw the president coming down the steps toward 
him, together with Mayor Richard Daley and other dignitaries. 

JFK and Vietnam 


Kennedy stopped in front of Bolden. He said, "Who are you?" 
"I'm Abraham Bolden, Mr. President." 
"Are you a member of the Secret Service?" 
"Yes, sir." 

"Mr. Bolden, has there ever been a Negro member of the White House 
Detail of the Secret Service?" 
"No, sir, there has not." 

"Would you like to be the first?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"I'll see you in Washington." 48 

Abraham Bolden joined the White House Secret Service detail in June 
1961. He experienced personally John Kennedy's concern for people. 
Kennedy never passed Bolden without speaking to him. He asked about him 
and his family, in such a way that Bolden knew he meant it. He engaged him 
in small talk about Chicago and its baseball teams. The president often intro- 
duced Bolden to his White House visitors. Bolden could also see in Kennedy's 
eyes a worry, a feeling that something was wrong around him. 49 

Abraham Bolden saw increasing evidence of the president's isolation and 
danger from the standpoint of security. Most of the Secret Service agents 
seemed to hate John Kennedy. They joked among themselves that if someone 
shot at him, they'd get out of the way. The agents' drunken after-hours 
behavior carried over into lax security for the president. Bolden refused to 
drink or play cards with them. The other agents made remarks about "nig- 
gers" in his presence. 50 

As he had before in his life, Abraham Bolden spoke up. He complained to 
his superiors about the president's poor security. They did nothing. After 
forty days as a member of the White House detail, Bolden refused to take 
part any longer in a charade. He returned voluntarily to the Chicago office. 
He had demoted himself on principle from the highest position an African 
American had ever held in the Secret Service. However, in a deeper scheme 
of things, the White House detail had been one more apprenticeship for 
Bolden. He had grown in love and respect for the president, while speaking 
up for his life. From East St. Louis to the White House, Abraham Bolden 
was being primed to be a witness to the unspeakable. 

t the June 3-4, 1961, summit meeting in Vienna, John Kennedy succeeded 
in negotiating with Nikita Khrushchev for their mutual support of a neu- 
tral and independent Laos under a government to be chosen by the Laotians 
themselves. 51 It was the only issue they could agree upon. Khrushchev's 
apparent indifference toward the deepening Cold War threat of nuclear war 
had shocked Kennedy. It inspired his midnight reflection echoing Lincoln 
written on the flight back to Washington: 

"I know there is a God — and I see a storm coming; 
If he has a place for me, I believe that I am ready." 52 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Kennedy had had to push Khrushchev at Vienna to get him to agree on 
Laos. At first Khrushchev taunted his American counterpart with Cold War 
history, saying Kennedy "knew very well that it had been the US government 
[under Eisenhower] which had overthrown Souvanna Phouma." 53 JFK con- 
ceded the point. He said, "Speaking frankly, US policy in that region has not 
always been wise." 54 Nevertheless, he went on, the United States now wanted 
a Laos that would be as neutral and independent as Cambodia and Burma 
were. Khrushchev said that was his view as well. 55 

He then became as amused by the U.S. policy about-face on Laos as 
Kennedy's military and CIA advisers were upset by it. He said wryly to 
Kennedy, "You seem to have stated the Soviet policy and called it your 
own." 56 Kennedy's Cold War critics grimly agreed. For his part, JFK was 
relieved to have found at least one place in the world, Indochina, where he 
and Khrushchev seemed ready to pursue peace together. 

Kennedy immediately ordered his representative at the Geneva Confer- 
ence, Averell Harriman, to seize the time and resolve the Laos crisis peace- 
fully. He phoned Harriman in Geneva and said bluntly, "Did you 
understand? I want a negotiated settlement in Laos. I don't want to put 
troops in." 57 

Nevertheless, putting troops in continued to be the Joint Chiefs' demand 
to the president, for not only Laos but also for the former French colony on 
its eastern border, Vietnam. What now gave Vietnam added significance in 
the Kennedy administration was the stand that the president had taken on 
Laos. Before Kennedy reached his first half-year in office, in Cold War terms 
he was already thought to have "lost Laos" by joining the Soviet Union in 
supporting a coalition government that would include Communists. He 
therefore came under increasing pressure to "save South Vietnam" by intro- 
ducing there the U.S. combat troops he refused to send to Laos. However, the 
anti-communist South Vietnamese government Kennedy was being asked to 
save was itself highly problematic. 

On November 11, 1960, three days after JFK was elected U.S. president, 
South Vietnam's president Ngo Dinh Diem was almost turned out of office 
by a military coup with a populist base of support. The November 1960 
attempted coup foreshadowed the November 1963 successful coup that 
would kill Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. Holed up in both cases 
with a handful of presidential guards, the wily, despotic ruler negotiated 
just long enough in November 1960 with the rebel forces surrounding his 
palace to enable a loyalist armored battalion to reach him in the nick of 
time. The tank commanders then turned their guns on the rebels, routing 
them. 58 When he would try to follow a similar delaying strategy in 1963, 
Diem would be dealing with more seasoned coup leaders who were resolved 
not to repeat the mistakes of three years ago. But in 1960 Diem survived the 
coup and reasserted his control over South Vietnam. Claiming initially that 
he had reformed his ways, he continued his autocratic rule, relying on U.S. 
support to defeat both democratic opponents and a Communist-led guerrilla 

JFK and Vietnam 


The Pentagon Papers have described the special American commitment to 
Vietnam that existed when Kennedy became president. Unlike any of the 
other countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam was "essentially the creation of 
the United States," 59 as was the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem: 

"Without U.S. support Diem almost certainly could not have consolidated 
his hold on the South during 1955 and 1956. [Senator John F. Kennedy, 
because of his Cold War politics and his first impression of Diem as a sincere 
Vietnamese nationalist, had been among the U.S. supporters of Diem's gov- 

"Without the threat of U.S. intervention, South Vietnam could not have 
refused to even discuss the elections called for in 1956 under the Geneva set- 
tlement without being immediately overrun by the Viet Minh armies. 

"Without U.S. aid in the years following, the Diem regime certainly, and 
an independent South Vietnam almost as certainly, could not have sur- 
vived." 60 

In the context of the U.S. creation of South Vietnam as a bulwark against 
Communism (with John F. Kennedy's participation), President Kennedy's 
decision in the spring of 1961 to neutralize neighboring Laos was a shock to 

Diem. He regarded Kennedy's new policy in Laos as a threat to the survival 
of his own government. JFK tried to reassure Diem by sending Vice President 
Lyndon Johnson in May 1961 to visit him along with other anti-Communist 

Asian allies who were dismayed by Kennedy's turn toward neutralism. John- 
son's written report back to the president was a rebuke of his policy. John- 
son described what he thought was the disastrous impact of the decision to 
neutralize Laos: 

"Country to country, the degree differs but Laos has created doubt and 
concern about intentions of the United States throughout Southeast Asia. 
No amount of success at Geneva can, of itself, erase this. The independent 
Asians do not wish to have their own status resolved in like manner in 

"Leaders such as Diem, Chiang [Kai-Shek of Taiwan], Sarit [of Thailand], 
and Ayub [Khan of Pakistan] more or less accept that we are making 'the best 
of a bad bargain' at Geneva. Their charity extends no farther . . . 

"Our [Johnson's] mission arrested the decline of confidence in the United 
States. It did not — in my judgment — restore any confidence already lost. The 
leaders were as explicit, as courteous and courtly as men could be in mak- 
ing it clear that deeds must follow words — soon. 

"We didn't buy time — we were given it. 

"If these men I saw at your request were bankers, I would know — with- 
out bothering to ask — that there would be no further extensions on my 
note." 61 

Johnson then summed up for Kennedy a belligerent Cold War challenge 
to his policy that came not only from the anti-Communist allies whom LBJ 
had just visited but also from the Pentagon and from the vice president 

"The fundamental decision required of the United States — and time is of 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the greatest importance — is whether we are to attempt to meet the challenge 
of Communist expansion now in Southeast Asia by a major effort in support 
of the forces of freedom in the area or throw in the towel." 62 

Kennedy's response to this reproach from his vice president was not "to 
throw in the towel" to Communist expansion in Southeast Asia, but neither 
was it to approve the combat troops that the Joint Chiefs now wanted for 
Vietnam. Kennedy drew the same line in South Vietnam that he had drawn 
in Laos and Cuba. He would not authorize the sending of U.S. combat troops. 

On May 10, and again on May 18, the Joint Chiefs had recommended 
that combat troops be sent to Vietnam. 63 Diem then sent Kennedy a June 9 
letter with a more modest request, for "selected elements of the American 
Armed Forces to establish training centers for the Vietnamese Armed 
Forces." 64 As the Pentagon Papers point out in this connection, "the crucial 
issue, of course, was whether Americans would be sent to Vietnam in the 
form of organized combat units, capable of, if not explicitly intended for 
conducting combat operations." 65 Kennedy would agree to send military 
support to Diem, such as U.S. advisers and helicopters. However, no matter 
what pressures were put upon him, he would always refuse to send "Amer- 
ican units capable of independent combat against the guerrillas." 66 

The author of this section of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, puz- 
zled over why Kennedy took such a stand. Why wouldn't John F. Kennedy 
send combat units to Vietnam? The focus of Ellsberg's question in his Pen- 
tagon Papers analysis was the fall of 1961, when Kennedy had advisers on 
all sides urging him to send U.S. troops before it was too late to stop a Viet 
Cong victory. 

The pressure on the president began to build in late summer. "The situa- 
tion [in South Vietnam] gets worse almost week by week," journalist 
Theodore White reported to the White House in August. "The guerrillas 
now control almost all the southern delta — so much so that I could find no 
American who would drive me outside Saigon in his car even by day with- 
out military convoy." 67 

In September the number of guerrilla attacks in South Vietnam almost 
tripled from the previous months' totals. Saigon was shocked when Phuoc 
Thanh, a provincial capital nearby, was seized and Diem's province chief was 
beheaded before the insurgents retreated. 68 

As the pressures increased for U.S. troops, Kennedy stalled by sending a 
fact-finding mission to Saigon in October. General Maxwell Taylor was its 
head. He was no help. Taylor wired Kennedy from Saigon that the United 
States should take quick advantage of a severe flood in South Vietnam by 
introducing six thousand to eight thousand U.S. troops under the guise of 
"flood relief," including combat units that would then "give a much needed 
shot in the arm to national morale." 69 In a follow-up wire from the Philip- 
pines, Taylor acknowledged that those first eight thousand troops could well 
be just the beginning: "If the ultimate result sought is the closing of the fron- 
tiers and the clean-up of the insurgents within SVN, there is no limit to our 

JFK and Vietnam 


possible commitment (unless we attack the source in Hanoi)." 70 On the other 
hand, regardless of the number of troops needed, Taylor thought "there can 
be no action so convincing of U.S. seriousness of purpose and hence so reas- 
suring to the people and Government of SVN and to our other friends and 
allies in [Southeast Asia] as the introduction of U.S. forces into SVN." 71 Tay- 
lor's enthusiasm for troops was seconded in a cable by Ambassador Freder- 
ick Nolting, who cited "conversations over past ten days with Vietnamese in 
various walks of life" showing a "virtually unanimous desire for introduc- 
tion of U.S. forces into Viet-Nam." 

The case for troops was becoming formidable. On November 8, Defense 
Secretary Robert McNamara, his deputy Roswell Gilpatric, and the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff all recommended to Kennedy in a memorandum that "we do 
commit the U.S. to the clear objective of preventing the fall of South Vietnam 
to Communism and that we support this commitment by the necessary mil- 
itary actions," including Taylor's proposed "U.S. force of the magnitude of 
an initial 8,000 men in a flood relief context" and expanding to as many as 
six divisions of ground forces, "or about 205,000 men." 72 

Kennedy rejected the virtually unanimous recommendation of his advis- 
ers in the fall of 1961 to send combat troops to Vietnam. Taylor reflected 
later on the uniqueness of JFK's position: "I don't recall anyone who was 
strongly against [sending ground troops], except one man and that was the 
President. The President just didn't want to be convinced that this was the 
right thing to do ... It was really the President's personal conviction that U.S. 
ground troops shouldn't go in." 73 

Kennedy was so resistant to the military's demand for troops that he took 
a step he knew would further alienate them. He subverted his military lead- 
ers' recommendations by planting a story that they were against sending 
combat units. 

In mid-October the New York Times reported erroneously: "Military lead- 
ers at the Pentagon, no less than General Taylor himself, are understood to 
be reluctant to send organized U.S. combat units into Southeast Asia." 74 The 
opposite was the truth. As we have seen, the Pentagon leaders and General 
Taylor were in fact beating their war drums as loudly as they could in the 
president's ears. They wanted combat troops. Kennedy fought back with a 
public lie. As the Pentagon Papers noted, "It is just about inconceivable that 
this story could have been given out except at the direction of the president, 
or by him personally." 75 The president was undermining his military leaders 
by dispensing the false information that they were against the very step they 
most wanted him to take. The ploy worked. As the Pentagon Papers 
observed, "The Times story had the apparently desired effect. Speculation 
about combat troops almost disappeared from news stories ..." However, 
besides misleading the public, Kennedy was playing a dangerous game with 
the Pentagon's leaders. His misrepresentation of their push for combat troops 
would prove to be one more piece of evidence in their mounting case against 
the president. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

But Kennedy would do anything he could to keep from sending combat 
troops to Vietnam. He told Arthur Schlesinger, "They want a force of Amer- 
ican troops. They say it's necessary in order to restore confidence and main- 
tain morale. But it will be just like Berlin. The troops will march in; the bands 
will play; the crowds will cheer; and in four days everyone will have forgot- 
ten. Then we will be told we have to send in more troops. It's like taking a 
drink. The effect wears off, and you have to take another." 76 

Nevertheless, although he refused to send combat troops, Kennedy did 
agree in November 1961 to increase the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam. 
What he chose to send instead of combat troops were advisers and support 
units. According to the advice he was being given, Kennedy's military sup- 
port program for South Vietnam would almost certainly fall far short of any- 
thing that could stop the Viet Cong. This was what puzzled Daniel Ellsberg 
so deeply when he analyzed JFK's decision in the Pentagon Papers, as he has 
written more recently in his memoir, Secrets: 

"Kennedy had chosen to increase U.S. involvement and investment of 
prestige in Vietnam and to reaffirm our rhetorical commitment — not as much 
as his subordinates asked him to, but significantly while rejecting an element, 
ground forces, that nearly all his own officials described as essential to suc- 
cess. In fact, at the same time he had rejected another element that all his 
advisers, including [Secretary of State Dean] Rusk, had likewise described 

as essential: an explicit full commitment to defeating the Communists in 
South Vietnam. Why?" 77 

While Ellsberg was trying to figure out JFK's odd stand, he had the oppor- 
tunity to raise the question in a conversation with Robert Kennedy. As a U.S. 
senator in 1967, Kennedy had invited Ellsberg, a Pentagon analyst, to talk 

with him in his office about a mutual concern, the escalating war in Viet- 
nam. Ellsberg had boldly seized the chance to question RFK about JFK's 
decision making in 1961. Why, Ellsberg asked him, had President Kennedy 

rejected both ground troops and a formal commitment to victory in Viet- 
nam, thereby "rejecting the urgent advice of every one of his top military 
and civilian officials"? 78 

Robert Kennedy answered that his brother was absolutely determined 
never to send ground combat units to Vietnam, because if he did, the U.S. 
would be in the same spot as the French — whites against Asians, in a war 
against nationalism and self-determination. 

Ellsberg pressed the question: Was JFK willing to accept defeat rather than 
send troops? 

RFK said that if the president reached the point where the only alterna- 
tives to defeat were sending ground troops or withdrawing, he intended to 
withdraw. "We would have handled it like Laos," his brother said. 79 

Ellsberg was even more intrigued. It was obvious to him that none of Pres- 
ident Kennedy's senior advisers had any such conviction about Indochina. 
Ellsberg kept pushing for more of an explanation for Kennedy's stand. 

"What made him so smart?" he asked John Kennedy's brother. 

JFK and Vietnam 


Writing more than thirty years after this conversation, Ellsberg could still 
feel the shock he had experienced from RFK's response: 

"Whap! His hand slapped down on the desk. I jumped in my chair. 
'Because we were there! 9 He slammed the desktop again. His face contorted 
in anger and pain. 'We were there, in 1951. We saw what was happening to 
the French. We saw it. My brother was determined, determined never to let 
that happen to us.'" 80 

John Kennedy had been there. He had seen it with Robert, when the 
French troops were doing it. A friend on the spot, Edmund Gullion, had 
underlined the futility of American combat troops replacing the French. Ells- 
berg wrote that he believed what Robert Kennedy said, "that his brother 
was strongly convinced that he should never send ground troops to 
Indochina and that he was prepared to accept a 'Laotian solution' if neces- 
sary to avoid that." 81 

FK was not primarily concerned with Vietnam, or even Laos, in the mid- 
dle of 1961. The focus of the president's attention was on Germany. In the 
summer and fall following the Bay of Pigs, John Kennedy's struggle with 
Nikita Khrushchev over the divided city of Berlin was the context in which 
Kennedy was also discerning what to do in Laos — and in relation to Laos, 

His military advisers continued to ride hard toward the apocalypse. 
Kennedy was appalled by Generals Lemnitzer's and LeMay's insistence at 
two summer meetings that they wanted his authorization to use nuclear 
weapons in both Berlin and Southeast Asia. His response was to walk out of 
the meetings. 82 

After one such walkout, he threw his hands in the air, glanced back at the 
generals and admirals left in the Cabinet Room, and said, "These people are 
crazy." 83 The Joint Chiefs wondered in turn why their commander-in-chief 
was reluctant to authorize their use of the means they considered essential to 
victory. Was he crazy? 

In October 1961, the president's newly appointed personal representative 
in West Berlin, retired general Lucius Clay, tried to escalate the Berlin crisis 
to a point where the president would be forced to choose victory. In August, 
Khrushchev had ordered the building of the Berlin Wall, thereby ending a 
mass exodus of East Germans to the capitalist side of the city. In September, 
General Clay began secret preparations to tear down the wall. He ordered 
Major General Albert Watson, the U.S. military commandant in West Berlin, 
to have army engineers build a duplicate section of the Berlin Wall in a for- 
est. U.S. tanks with bulldozer attachments then experimented with assaults 
on the substitute wall. General Bruce Clarke, who commanded U.S. forces 
in Europe, learned of Clay's exercise and put a stop to it. 84 When he told 
Clay to end the wall-bashing rehearsals, Clarke looked at Clay's red tele- 
phone to the White House and said, "If you don't like that, call the President 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

and see what he says." 85 Clay chose not to. Nor did either man ever inform 
the president of what had gone on at the secret wall in the forest. 

While Kennedy remained unaware of Clay's provocative planning, 
Khrushchev was much better informed. Soviet spies had watched the forest 
maneuvers, had taken pictures of them, and had relayed their reports and pic- 
tures to Moscow. Khrushchev then assembled a group of close advisers to 
plot out step by step their counterscenario to a U.S. assault on the Berlin 
Wall. 86 However, Nikita Khrushchev doubted that John Kennedy had author- 
ized any such attack. He and the president had already begun their secret 
communications and had in fact even made private progress in the previous 
month on the question of Berlin. Khrushchev strongly suspected that 

Kennedy was being undermined. 87 

Khrushchev's son, Sergei, in his memoir, Nikita Khrushchev and the Cre- 
ation of a Superpower , has described from the Soviet standpoint how the 
two Cold War leaders had begun to conspire toward coexistence. His account 
has been corroborated at key points by Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre 

At their Vienna meeting in June, Kennedy had proposed to Khrushchev 
that they establish "a private and unofficial channel of communications that 
would bypass all formalities." 88 Khrushchev agreed. In September the Soviet 
premier made a first use of the back channel. 

After a summer of increasing tensions over Berlin, JFK was about to give 
his first speech at the United Nations. On the weekend before his UN appear- 
ance, as the Berlin crisis was continuing, the president and Pierre Salinger 
were staying overnight at a Manhattan hotel. Salinger agreed to an urgent 
phone request from Georgi Bolshakov, Soviet embassy press attache, that he 
meet in private with Soviet press chief Mikhail Kharlamov. 

When Salinger opened his hotel room door to his Russian visitor, Khar- 
lamov was smiling. "The storm in Berlin is over," he said. 89 A puzzled 
Salinger replied, on the contrary, the situation couldn't have been much 

Kharlamov kept smiling. "Just wait, my friend," he said. 

When Kharlamov was inside the room, his words came tumbling out. His 
urgent message to John Kennedy from Nikita Khrushchev was that 
Khrushchev "was now willing, for the first time, to consider American pro- 
posals for a rapprochement on Berlin." 90 The Soviet premier hoped he and 
Kennedy could arrange a summit meeting as soon as possible. Kharlamov 
said Khrushchev was feeling intense pressure from the communist bloc to 
keep pushing Kennedy on the German question. However, the Soviet leader 
felt himself that it was time for a settlement on Berlin. He was afraid that a 
major military incident there could spark terrible consequences. 

Kharlamov ended Khrushchev's message to Kennedy with an appeal: "He 
hopes your President's speech to the UN won't be another warlike ultimatum 
like the one on July 25 [when Kennedy had said the U.S. was willing to wage 
war to stop the Soviets in Germany]. He didn't like that at all." 91 It was obvi- 

JFK and Vietnam 


ous that Khrushchev wanted Kennedy to know his more conciliatory attitude 
on Germany before the president made his UN speech. 

Salinger conveyed Khrushchev's message personally to the president at 
1:00 A.M. Kennedy had been sitting up reading in his hotel bed. He asked his 
press secretary to repeat the key points carefully. Then he got up, went to a 
window, and stood for a long time in his white pajamas gazing at the lights 
of the Manhattan skyline. 

Finally he said, "There's only one way you can read it. If Khrushchev is 
ready to listen to our views on Germany, he's not going to recognize the 
[Walter] Ulbricht [East German] regime — not this year, at least — and that's 
good news." 92 

He dictated a message to Khrushchev, for Salinger to give verbally to 
Kharlamov, that he was "cautiously receptive to Khrushchev's proposal for 
an early summit on Berlin. But first there should be a demonstration of Soviet 
good faith in Laos," according to the agreement they had reached in 
Vienna. 93 Berlin and Laos were linked. The Communist Pathet Lao army 
needed to back off and allow the neutralist Souvanna Phouma to form a 
coalition government, just as he and Khrushchev had agreed in Vienna. He 
would return to this theme repeatedly in his messages to Khrushchev. 

The president's more substantive response to the premier's secretly con- 
veyed "good news" was the speech he gave on September 25 to the United 
Nations. The speech had been written before he received Khrushchev's mes- 
sage, but he reviewed it in his hotel room in that light. Like his opponent, 
Kennedy had already felt the need to back away from the brink in Berlin. He 
saw that he didn't have to revise the speech's text. 

His central theme, in contrast to his speech of July 25, was disarmament. 

He told the United Nations that disarmament was not an option but an 
absolute imperative: 

"Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when 
this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives 
under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, 
capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by mad- 
ness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us. 

". . . It is therefore our intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an 
arms race, but to a peace race — to advance together step by step, stage by 
stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved." 94 

How much did he mean it? Nikita Khrushchev wasn't sure and wouldn't 
be until the American University address two years later. But he already knew 
enough about Kennedy by October 1961 to doubt if it was he who was 
behind the reported plans to demolish the Berlin Wall. That had to be the 
work of other minds and hands. As Sergei Khrushchev commented, "It 
seemed to Father that other forces, bypassing the president, were interfer- 
ing." 95 

The irony was that Kennedy had appointed the man, retired general 
Lucius Clay, who was now suddenly leading those forces into darkness. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

However, Lucius Clay, like Kennedy's Pentagon generals, had a mind of his 
own when it came to a young president's naive belief that he could win a 
struggle with evil without going to war. As an old World War II general, Clay 
knew better. When an October controversy arose at the Berlin Wall over the 
showing of allied credentials, General Clay seized the opportunity as a per- 
sonal mandate. 

On October 27, ten American M-48 tanks, with bulldozers mounted on 
the lead tanks, ground their way up to Checkpoint Charlie at the center of 
the Berlin Wall. They were confronted by ten Soviet tanks, which had been 
waiting for them quietly on the side streets of East Berlin. A well-briefed 
Nikita Khrushchev and his advisers had set their counterplan in motion. 

Twenty more Soviet tanks arrived soon after as reinforcements, and twenty 
more U.S. tanks moved up from the allied side. The American and Russian 
tanks faced off, with their long-nosed guns trained on one another, ready to 
fire. Throughout the night and for a total of sixteen hours, the confrontation 

Soviet foreign affairs adviser Valentin Falin was beside Khrushchev 
throughout the crisis. Falin said later that if the U.S. tanks and bulldozers had 
advanced farther, the Soviet tanks would have fired on them, bringing the 
U.S. and the U.S.S.R. "closer to the third world war than ever . . . Had the 
tank duel started then in Berlin — and everything was running toward it — the 

events most probably would have gone beyond any possibility of control." 96 
An alarmed President Kennedy phoned Lucius Clay. Although Kennedy 
left no record of the conversation, Clay claims the president said, "I know 
you people over there haven't lost your nerve." Clay said his bold reply was: 
"Mr. President, we're not worried about our nerves. We're worrying about 
those of you people in Washington." 97 

At that point the president sent an urgent message to Khrushchev via the 
back channel. Robert Kennedy contacted Soviet press attache Georgi Bol- 
shakov. RFK said that if Khrushchev would withdraw his tanks within 
twenty-four hours, JFK would do the same within thirty minutes later. 98 The 
president then ordered Lucius Clay to be ready to carry out the U.S. side of 
such a withdrawal. 

The next morning the Soviet tanks backed away, and the U.S. tanks fol- 
lowed suit in thirty minutes. The Checkpoint Charlie crisis was over. Its res- 
olution prefigured that of the Cuban Missile Crisis one year later. In both 
cases Kennedy asked Khrushchev to take the first step. The Soviet leader did 
so, in gracious recognition that Kennedy was under even more intense pres- 
sure than he was. In both cases a back-channel communication via Robert 
Kennedy was critical. And in both cases Khrushchev, in withdrawing his 
tanks and later his missiles, achieved his own objectives in exchange from 
Kennedy: the removal of U.S. threats to bulldoze the Wall and to invade 
Cuba, and the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey and Italy. 

However, both the mini-crisis at the Berlin Wall and the huge one over 
Cuban missiles revealed the shakiness of Kennedy's position in relation to his 

JFK and Vietnam 


own military. In the crisis at the wall, Khrushchev knew more about the U.S. 
plans for attack than Kennedy did. Fortunately Khrushchev was sensitive to 
the forces subverting JFK, beginning at the wall with General Lucius Clay. 
Although Clay was technically a civilian and theoretically the president's rep- 
resentative, he acted like a free-wheeling Cold War general. His attitude 
toward the president's order that he withdraw U.S. tanks from the wall antic- 
ipated the Joint Chiefs' anger a year later at their commander-in-chief's 
pledge not to invade Cuba. Two and a half weeks after the tanks confronta- 
tion that threatened a nuclear holocaust, its instigator, Lucius Clay, sent a 
telegram to Secretary of State Dean Rusk in which he stated: 

"Today, we have the nuclear strength to assure victory at awful cost. It no 
longer suffices to consider our strength as a deterrent only and to plan to use 
it only in retaliation. No ground probes on the highway which would use 
force should or could be undertaken unless we are prepared instantly to fol- 
low them with a nuclear strike. It is certain that within two or more years 
retaliatory power will be useless as whoever strikes first will strike last." 99 

To Lucius Clay's regret, the president had not been prepared instantly to 
follow Clay's assault on the Berlin Wall with a nuclear first strike. Like his 
cohorts in the Pentagon at the height of the missile crisis, Clay wanted to 
seize the moment, so the United States could "win" the Cold War by strik- 
ing first. His analysis, like theirs, was that time was running out. In the mean- 
time, the military conscience was coming to see the president's conscience as 
a threat to the nation's survival. Moreover, his deepening collusion with 
Khrushchev seemed treasonous. 

s a committed Cold Warrior, John Kennedy from the first moments of his 
presidency had wanted to "let every nation know, whether it wishes us 
well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, 
support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of 
liberty." 100 Kennedy was a true believer in his inaugural's collective adapta- 
tion of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death." He was articu- 
lating a vision of political freedom, however one-sided its implications, that 
not only most Americans but hundreds of millions of allies believed in fer- 
vently at the time. It was set against a countervision of economic freedom 
believed by hundreds of millions of Communist opponents. Thus arose the 
thousand-day-long series of crises between those two opposite believers, John 
Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, who almost unwillingly then became co- 
creators of a new, more peaceful vision. Both the crises, which were begin- 
ning to fade away, and the new vision that was taking their place ended with 
Kennedy's assassination. 

From Kennedy's side of their dogmatic battle, the saving factor was what 
few commentators have remembered from his inaugural address but what he 
believed in just as profoundly as he did freedom — peace in the nuclear age, 
through negotiation with the enemy: 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

"Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we 
offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for 
peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all 
humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction." 101 

How to square the circle, or negotiate his way out of a circular conflict, 
was not evident to Kennedy at the beginning. His conflicting commitments 
to freedom (backed by world-ending weapons) and to peace (backed by an 
openness to dialogue) were not easily reconciled. In the context of his own 
struggle to resolve those beliefs, we can understand his more visible struggle 
with Nikita Khrushchev, particularly on Laos and Vietnam. 

Kennedy thought he and Khrushchev had in effect settled the issue of Laos 
at their Vienna meeting. He said so repeatedly in their secret communica- 
tions. In his October 16, 1961, letter to Khrushchev, Kennedy said, as he 
had in his verbal message through Salinger and Kharlamov three weeks 
before, that any second summit meeting should be preceded by a peaceful res- 
olution of Laos: "Indeed I do not see how we can expect to reach a settle- 
ment on so bitter and complex an issue as Berlin, where both of us have vital 
interests at stake, if we cannot come to a final agreement on Laos, which we 
have previously agreed should be neutral and independent after the fashion 
of Burma and Cambodia." 102 

In Khrushchev's first private letter to Kennedy, on September 29, 1961, the 
Soviet premier had written: "I note with gratification that you and I are of 
the same opinion as to the need for the withdrawal of foreign troops from 
the territory of Laos." 103 

In Kennedy's October 16 response, he underlined their agreement on for- 
eign troop withdrawals and stressed the need to verify such withdrawals 
through the work of the International Control Commission (ICC): 

"As you note, the withdrawal of foreign troops from the territory of Laos 
is an essential condition to preserving that nation's independence and neu- 
trality. There are other, similar conditions, and we must be certain that the 
ICC has the power and the flexibility to verify the existence of these condi- 
tions to the satisfaction of everyone concerned." 104 

At this juncture, Kennedy identified the specific Laos-Vietnam connec- 
tion that would prove critical to an expanding war in Vietnam: "In addition 
to so instructing your spokesmen at Geneva [to support the ICC's verifica- 
tion of troop withdrawals], I hope you will increasingly exercise your influ- 
ence in this direction on all of your "corresponding quarters" [meaning 
especially the North Vietnamese]; for the acceleration of attacks on South 
Viet-Nam, many of them from within Laotian territory, are a very grave 
threat to peace in that area and to the entire kind of world-wide accommo- 
dation you and I recognize to be necessary." 105 

The strategic location of Laos, just to the west of Vietnam, made its east- 
ern highlands an ideal conduit for North Vietnamese troops moving covertly 
into South Vietnam, as would happen increasingly over the remaining two 
years of Kennedy's presidency. That continuing military buildup via the "Ho 

JFK and Vietnam 


Chi Minh Trail" in Laos would make inevitable a Communist victory in Viet- 
nam, while disrupting the "neutral and independent Laos" Kennedy and 
Khrushchev had already agreed to. However, Khrushchev was powerless to 
stop it even if he wanted to. Just as Kennedy would discover he had no con- 
trol over Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, neither was Khrushchev able to 
control Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam. Diem and Ho had minds and poli- 
cies of their own. 

In Khrushchev's November 10, 1961, letter to Kennedy, he dismissed the 
infiltration of North Vietnamese troops through Laos and emphasized the 
weakest link in U.S. policy in Southeast Asia, namely Ngo Dinh Diem: "I 
think that looking at facts soberly you cannot but agree that the present 
struggle of the population of South Vietnam against Ngo Dinh Diem cannot 
be explained by some kind of interference or incitement from outside. The 
events that are taking place there are of internal nature and are connected 
with the general indignation of the population at the bankrupt policy of Ngo 
Dinh Diem and those who surround him. This and only this is the core of the 
matter." 106 

Kennedy, in his November 16 reply, shrewdly bypassed Khrushchev's cri- 
tique of Diem to reemphasize the "external interference" of North Vietnam: 
"I do not wish to argue with you concerning the government structure and 
policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem, but I would like to cite for your con- 
sideration the evidence of external interference or incitement which you dis- 
miss in a phrase." 107 

After drawing on a South Vietnamese government letter to the ICC, 
Kennedy concluded that "Southern Vietnam is now undergoing a determined 
attempt from without to overthrow the existing government using for this 
purpose infiltration, supply of arms, propaganda, terrorization, and all the 
customary instrumentalities of communist activities in such circumstances, all 
mounted and developed from North Vietnam." 108 

Kennedy and Khrushchev each had a piece of the truth. North Vietnam 
was in fact sending its troops and arms through "a neutral and independent" 
Laos into South Vietnam. But this infiltration was part of a nationalist Com- 
munist movement that would have been ruling all of Vietnam had not Diem, 
backed by the Eisenhower administration, blocked an election called for by 
the Geneva settlement. As Kennedy argued, North Vietnam was indeed vio- 
lating the neutrality of Laotian territory. But as Khrushchev insisted, Ngo 
Dinh Diem's government, illegitimate from the start, was suppressing its own 
people. The overarching truth plaguing Kennedy's and Khrushchev's agree- 
ment on a neutral and independent Laos was that peace in Laos and Vietnam 
was interdependent. 

ohn Kennedy contradicted his commitment to a peaceful settlement of the 
Laos crisis by his decision to deploy CIA and military advisers there and 
to arm covertly the members of the Hmong tribe (known by the Americans 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

as the "Meos"). On August 29, 1961, following the recommendations of his 
CIA, military, and State Department advisers, Kennedy agreed to raise the 
total of U.S. advisers in Laos to five hundred and to go ahead with the equip- 
ping of two thousand more "Meos." That brought to eleven thousand the 
number of mountain men of Laos recruited into the CIA's covert army. 109 
From Kennedy's standpoint, he was supporting an indigenous group of peo- 
ple who were profoundly opposed to their land's occupation by the Pathet 
Lao army. He was also trying to hold on to enough ground, through some 
effective resistance to the Pathet Lao's advance, to leave something for Averell 
Harriman to negotiate with in Geneva toward a neutralist government. But 
he was working within Cold War assumptions and playing into the hands of 

his own worst enemy, the CIA. The Agency was eager to manipulate his pol- 
icy to benefit their favorite Laotian strongman, General Phoumi Nosavan. 

Aware of this danger, Kennedy went ahead in strengthening the CIA-"Meo" 
army, so as to stem a Communist takeover in Laos, while at the same time 
trying by other means to rein in the CIA. 

Following the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy had tried to reassert control over the 
CIA by firing the primary architects of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Allen Dulles, 
Richard Bissell, and General Charles Cabell; by launching a critical inquiry 
into the Bay of Pigs under the watchful eye of Robert Kennedy; and by cut- 
ting the CIA's budget. 110 A further measure by which JFK tried to keep the 
CIA from making foreign policy on the ground was his May 29, 1961, let- 
ter to each American ambassador abroad. The president wrote: "You are in 
charge of the entire U.S. Diplomatic Mission, and I expect you to supervise 
all its operations. The Mission includes not only the personnel of the Depart- 
ment of State and the Foreign Service, but also representatives of all other 
United States agencies." 111 That included, of course, the CIA, which 
Schlesinger notes was the particular target of JFK's letter. 112 

The Agency didn't like it. Its people were therefore pleased whenever 
Kennedy made a concession to their covert agenda, as he did in Laos to 
counter the Pathet Lao. That particular concession gave them the opportunity 
not only to strengthen General Phoumi's hand but also to encourage Phoumi 
to undercut the president's neutralist policy. Phoumi was happy to oblige. 

In early 1962 General Phoumi built up the garrison of Nam Tha, only fif- 
teen miles from the Chinese border. Phoumi used his reinforced base to 
launch provocative probes into nearby Pathet Lao territory. For a time the 
Pathet Lao ignored Phoumi, aware that he was trying to create an interna- 
tional incident. Eventually they did engage in a series of firefights with 
Phoumi forces, but refrained from attacking Nam Tha. However, Phoumi's 
troops abandoned Nam Tha anyhow, claiming they were under attack, and 
fled across the Mekong River into Thailand. 113 Then they waited for the 
United States to intervene in the conflict they had choreographed. 

As the Times of London reported, "CIA agents had deliberately opposed 
the official American objective of trying to establish a neutral government, 
had encouraged Phoumi in his reinforcement of Nam Tha, and had nega- 

JFK and Vietnam 


tived the heavy financial pressure brought by the Kennedy administration 
upon Phoumi by subventions from its own budget." 114 Emboldened by his 
knowledge of his CIA backing, Phoumi was brazen in his defiance of Presi- 
dent Kennedy's policy. The Times correspondent stated: "The General appar- 
ently was quite outspoken, and made it known that he could disregard the 
American embassy and the military advisory group because he was in com- 
munication with other American agencies." 115 

The CIA's Phoumi ploy failed, however, to create a crisis that would push 
Kennedy to intervene and kill the developing coalition in Laos. 116 Instead the 
president did nothing more than make a show of force, first to the Commu- 
nists by deploying troops to neighboring Thailand, and second to his advis- 
ers by having contingency plans drawn up for a Laotian intervention that 
would never happen. But JFK also authorized Averell Harriman to transfer 
Jack Hazey, the CIA officer closest to Phoumi. 117 Hazey had been the 
Agency's counterpart in Laos of David Atlee Phillips in the Caribbean, who 
would deploy anti-Castro Cubans in raids designed to draw JFK into a war 
with Cuba. In neither case did the president bite. 

t the Geneva Conference, Averell Harriman was trying to carry out the 
president's order to negotiate a settlement for a neutral Laos. JFK had 
been explicit to him that the alternative was unacceptable: "I don't want to 
put troops in." 118 Harriman brought to the conference the asset of a mutual 
respect with the Russians. He had done business in the Soviet Union. The 
Russians regarded Harriman as a friendly capitalist. He and Nikita 
Khrushchev had visited each other for informal diplomatic exchanges, first 
at the Kremlin, then at Harriman's Manhattan home, during the year before 
Kennedy became president. JFK had recognized Khrushchev's confidence in 
Harriman and would use that relationship later to great effect when Harri- 
man represented JFK in negotiating the test ban treaty with Khrushchev in 
Moscow. In Geneva, Harriman and his counterpart, Soviet negotiator Georgi 
M. Pushkin, were developing a wary friendship as they tried to find a way 
together through Laotian battlegrounds and Cold War intrigues. While rep- 
resenting opposite, contentious sides of the Cold War, Harriman and Pushkin 
respected each other and were inclined to conspire together for peace. 

A turning point at Geneva came in October 1961, when leaders of the 
three Laotian factions agreed to neutralist Souvanna Phouma's becoming 
prime minister of a provisional coalition government. Then, as Rudy Abram- 
son, Harriman's biographer, put it, the Soviets "agreed to take responsibil- 
ity for all the Communist states' compliance with the neutrality declaration 
and accepted language declaring that Laotian territory would not be used in 
the affairs of neighboring states — meaning the North Vietnamese could not 
use the trails through Laos to support the insurgency in South Vietnam." 119 
This largely unwritten understanding would become known in U.S. circles as 
the "Pushkin agreement." 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

A major obstacle arose, however, when the Soviets, the North Vietnamese, 
and the Pathet Lao insisted on the right of all three Laotian factions to 
approve any movements of the International Control Commission. The 
Pathet Lao would thereby be given a veto power over inspections to moni- 
tor violations of the accord. 120 The communists wouldn't budge on the issue. 
With the Pathet Lao controlling the battlefield, Harriman became convinced 
that the Geneva Conference would collapse unless the United States was will- 
ing to compromise. Although the State Department was adamantly opposed, 
Kennedy reluctantly decided with Harriman that the critical compromise 
with the Communists was necessary. The negotiations moved on. But from 
then on, a "neutral Laos" would take the form of a partitioned country under 
the guise of a coalition government. Georgi Pushkin would soon die. The 
agreement named after him would never be honored by Soviet leaders, who 
lacked the power to tell the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese what to 
do. The corridor running down the eastern border of Laos would become 
known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" for its infiltrating North Vietnamese sol- 
diers on their way to South Vietnam — or as State Department critics would 
call the same route, the "Averell Harriman Highway." 121 Kennedy, struggling 
to avoid both war and Communist domination of Laos in the midst of the 
larger East-West conflicts over Cuba, Berlin, and the Congo, was happy to 
get the compromise Harriman had worked out with Pushkin. 

The president's most bitter opponents to a Laotian settlement, in the 
Defense Department and the CIA, tried to destroy the agreement. They kept 
up their support of General Phoumi's provocations and violations of the 
cease-fire. Averell Harriman told Arthur Schlesinger in May 1962 that JFK's 
Laos policy was being "systematically sabotaged" from within the govern- 
ment by the military and the CIA. "They want to prove that a neutral solu- 
tion is impossible," Harriman said, "and that the only course is to turn Laos 
into an American bastion." 122 

n April 4, 1962, John Kenneth Galbraith, the ambassador to India, 

raised a ruckus among JFK's advisers by proposing in a memorandum 
to the president that the United States explore with North Vietnam a disen- 
gagement and mutual withdrawal from the growing war in South Vietnam. 
Galbraith suggested that either Soviet or Indian diplomats "should be asked 
to ascertain whether Hanoi can or will call off the Viet Cong activity in return 
for phased American withdrawal, liberalization in the trade relations between 
the two parts of the country and general and non-specific agreement to talk 
about reunification after some period of tranquillity." 123 

If the United States instead increased its military support of Diem, Gal- 
braith wrote Kennedy, "there is consequent danger we shall replace the 
French as the colonial force in the area and bleed as the French did." 124 Gal- 
braith's warning echoed what John Kennedy remembered hearing as a con- 
gressman from his friend Edmund Gullion in Saigon in 1951. 

JFK and Vietnam 


Predictably, the Joint Chiefs were furious at Galbraith's proposal. To 
McNamara they argued that "any reversal of U.S. policy could have disas- 
trous effects, not only on our relationship with South Vietnam, but with the 
rest of our Asian and other allies as well." 125 A Defense Department memo- 
randum to the president dismissed Galbraith saying, "His proposal contains 
the essential elements sought by the Communists for their takeover . . ," 126 

But the State Department also opposed Galbraith. Even Averell Harri- 
man, JFK's advocate for a neutral Laos, was against a neutral solution in 
Vietnam, as he told the president. 127 

Kennedy, however, considered Galbraith's proposal feasible. He tried 
unsuccessfully to explore it. In a conversation with Harriman in the Oval 
Office on April 6, he asked his newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State 
to follow up Galbraith's memorandum. He told Harriman to send Galbraith 
instructions to pursue an Indian diplomatic approach to the North Viet- 
namese about exploring a mutual disengagement with the United States. Har- 
riman resisted, saying they should wait a few days until they received an 
International Control Commission report on Vietnam. Kennedy agreed but 
insisted, according to a record of their conversation, "that instructions should 
nevertheless be sent to Galbraith, and that he would like to see such instruc- 
tions." 128 Harriman said he would send the instructions the following 
week. 129 

In fact Averell Harriman sabotaged Kennedy's proposal for a mutual de- 
escalation with North Vietnam. In response to the president's order to wire 
such instructions to Galbraith, Harriman "struck the language on de- 
escalation from the message with a heavy pencil line," as scholar Gareth 
Porter discovered by examining Harriman's papers. Harriman dictated 
instructions to his colleague Edward Rice for a telegram to Galbraith that 
instead "changed the mutual de-escalation approach into a threat of U.S. 
escalation of the war if the North Vietnamese refused to accept U.S. terms," 
thereby subverting Kennedy's purpose. 130 

When Rice tried to re-introduce Kennedy's peaceful initiative into the 
telegram, Harriman intervened. He again crossed out the de-escalation pro- 
posal, then "simply killed the telegram altogether." 131 As a result of Harri- 
man's obstruction, Galbraith never did receive JFK's mutual de-escalation 
proposal to North Vietnam. 132 

The president continued to remind his aides of the need to move in the 
direction Galbraith recommended. He told Harriman and the State Depart- 
ment's Michael Forrestal that, in Forrestal's words, "He wished us to be pre- 
pared to seize upon any favorable moment to reduce our involvement [in 
Vietnam], recognizing that the moment might yet be some time away." 133 
JFK then made his own preparations, through his Secretary of Defense, to 
seize that favorable moment to reverse course in Vietnam. 

In the spring of 1962, as Kennedy moved steadily toward a Laotian set- 
tlement, he instructed Robert McNamara to initiate a plan to withdraw the 

U.S. military from Vietnam. The first step was taken by McNamara at a Sec- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

retary of Defense (SECDEF) conference on the Vietnam War held in Saigon 
on May 8, 1962. 

When the Saigon conference was almost over, McNamara said there would 
be a special briefing for a few of his top decision makers. Those he asked to 
remain in the room included Joint Chiefs chairman General Lyman Lemnitzer, 
Admiral Harry Felt, General Paul Harkins, Ambassador Frederick Nolting, 
and the Defense Intelligence Agency's top expert on Vietnam, civilian analyst 
George Allen. It was George Allen who would describe this closed-door meet- 
ing in an interview and an unpublished manuscript decades later. 134 

When the door had shut, McNamara began examining the men on how 
each thought the United States should respond to an imminent Communist 
victory in Laos. The question, not on the conference agenda, took them by 
surprise. Admiral Felt's response was typical of the group's big-bang attitude 
that John Kennedy knew all too well. Felt said they could "launch air strikes 
immediately, and in forty-eight hours, for example, we could wipe the town 
of Tchepone right off the face of the map." 135 

McNamara pointed out that such an assault could easily provoke nearby 
North Vietnamese and Chinese forces to counterattack. What then? Should 
U.S. forces strike the North Vietnamese and Chinese bases, too? And what 
next? The men remained silent. 

By his quick examination the Secretary of Defense had demonstrated the 
president's position that the United States had nowhere to go militarily in 
Laos. The choice they had to make was between the negotiated compromise 
JFK was seeking (which the military regarded as a sellout to the Commu- 
nists) and an absurd commitment to wage an ever-escalating war in Laos, 
North Vietnam, and China. 

With the necessity of negotiating a neutral Laos as his preamble, 
McNamara introduced the military leaders to an even more unthinkable pol- 
icy — withdrawal from Vietnam. He said, "It is not the job of the U.S. to 
assume responsibility for the war but to develop the South Vietnamese capa- 
bility to do so." 136 He asked the men in the room when they thought the 
point would be reached when the South Vietnamese army could take over 

George Allen has described the response to this question by the general in 
charge of U.S. forces in Vietnam. He said, "Harkins' chin nearly hit the 
table." 137 General Harkins told McNamara they "had scarcely thought about 
that." They had been much too busy, he said, with plans to expand their 
military structure in South Vietnam "to think about how it might all be dis- 
mantled." 138 

But that is what McNamara told them they now had to do. They not only 
had to think about "how it might all be dismantled," but to prepare a concrete 
plan to do so. He ordered Harkins, as the commander of MACV [Military 
Assistance Command, Vietnam], "to devise a plan for turning full responsibility 
over to South Vietnam and reducing the size of our military command, and to 
submit this plan at the next conference." 139 The die was cast. 

JFK and Vietnam 


Thus began President John F. Kennedy's policy to withdraw U.S. military 
personnel from Vietnam. As of May 1962, Kennedy simply wanted his gen- 
erals to draw up a plan for withdrawal. He had not yet reached the point of 
ordering a withdrawal. But he wanted that concrete option on the table in 
front of him. His military chiefs were shocked. They thought Kennedy had 
already surrendered to the Communists in Laos. For the United States to 
withdraw from Vietnam was unthinkable. 

JFK knew the depth of their hostility. The previous fall he had told Gal- 
braith, in reference to the Bay of Pigs and a neutral Laos, "You have to real- 
ize that I can only afford so many defeats in one year." 140 By McNamara's 
order to Harkins, Kennedy was telegraphing a punch to the stomach of his 
military — withdrawal from Vietnam. He was thereby provoking them to 
launch a preemptive punch at himself. 

JFK tried to override what he knew would be the Pentagon's resistance to 
a plan for a Vietnam withdrawal by having his Secretary of Defense intro- 
duce the idea as a matter-of-fact order to a small circle of commanders at the 
Saigon conference. It was a strategy he had used before. Robert McNamara 
served as Kennedy's buffer to military heads whose rising anger toward the 
president gave way to insubordination. When Kennedy told Galbraith in 
August 1963 that after the election he might replace Rusk with McNamara 
as his Secretary of State, he said revealingly, "But then if I don't have McNa- 
mara at Defense to control the generals, I won't have a foreign policy." 141 

However, McNamara had at first agreed with the generals, not the presi- 
dent, on the critical issue of introducing combat troops into Vietnam. And 
when it came to enforcing the president's will over the Pentagon's, McNa- 
mara was not always that effective. His order to the generals to draw up a 
plan to withdraw from Vietnam would take more than a year to come back 
in a form the president could consider for approval. 

n July 23, 1962, the day on which the United States joined thirteen other 
nations at Geneva in signing the "Declaration on the Neutrality of 
Laos," Robert McNamara convened another Secretary of Defense Confer- 
ence on the Vietnam War, this one at Camp Smith, Hawaii. McNamara's 
May 8 order to General Harkins to submit a plan for withdrawal from Viet- 
nam had been ignored. On July 23, the Defense Secretary repeated the order, 
directing Harkins once again to lay out a long-range program for the com- 
pletion of training for the South Vietnamese army, so that U.S. advisers could 
be withdrawn. McNamara specified what he called a "conservative" three- 
year time line for the end of U.S. military assistance. He also indicated an 
early awareness in John Kennedy of what an antiwar movement would 
demand if the United States did not withdraw. 

McNamara said, "We must line up our long range program [for with- 
drawal] as it may become difficult to retain public support for our opera- 
tions in Vietnam. The political pressure will build up as U.S. losses continue 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

to occur. In other words, we must assume the worst and make our plans 
accordingly." 142 

"Therefore," he concluded, "planning must be undertaken now and a 
program devised to phase out U.S. military involvement." 143 

The Pentagon Papers note that three days later, on July 26, 1962, the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff formally directed the commander in chief of the Pacific to 
develop such a Comprehensive Plan for South Vietnam (CPSVN). The plan's 

stated objective reads like an elephant trying to tiptoe through a mine field 
so as to avoid an explosion into the word "withdrawal." The Joint Chiefs 
said the plan's objective was to "develop a capability within military and 
para-military forces of the GVN [Government of Vietnam] by the end of 
Calendar Year 65 that will help the GVN to achieve the strength necessary 
to exercise permanent and continued sovereignty over that part of Vietnam 
which lies below the demarcation line [of the 1954 Geneva Agreement, which 
established no separate "South Vietnam"] without the need for continued 
U.S. special military assistance." 144 Although the Joint Chiefs refused to iden- 
tify Kennedy's plan for withdrawal as what it was, 145 the plan had at least 
begun to move through military channels — like molasses. 

In the meantime, Kennedy was making piecemeal concessions to the mil- 
itary on Vietnam. That fall marked one of the worst. On October 2, 1962, 
he authorized a "limited crop destruction operation" in Phu Yen Province by 
South Vietnamese helicopters spraying U.S. -furnished herbicides. 146 Dean 
Rusk had argued against the military's push for crop destruction, saying that 
even though "the most effective way to hurt the Viet Cong is to deprive them 
of food," nevertheless those doing it "will gain the enmity of people whose 
crops are destroyed and whose wives and children will either have to stay in 

place and suffer hunger or become homeless refugees living on the uncertain 
bounty of a not-too-efficient government." 147 While sensitive to Rusk's argu- 
ment, Kennedy had yielded to the pressures of McNamara, Taylor, and the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff, and approved a criminal action. 

By going along with the military on crop destruction, Kennedy was vio- 
lating both his conscience and international law. In August he had already 
approved a separate herbicide operation whose purpose of defoliation, as 
recommended by McNamara, was to "deny concealed forward areas, attack 
positions, and ambush sites to the Viet Cong." 148 However, in his August 
approval, Kennedy had asked "that every effort be made to avoid acciden- 
tal destruction of the food crops in the areas to be sprayed." 149 

In October, the actual purpose of the program he approved was crop 
destruction. Why did he do it? According to Michael Forrestal, "I believe 
his main train of thinking was that you cannot say no to your military advi- 
sors all the time." 150 

JFK had in fact said yes in 1961 to a policy of widening military support 
to South Vietnam. The consequences were adding up. By November 1963, 
there would be a total of 16,500 U.S. military personnel in Vietnam. 
Although they were identified as "advisers," many were fighting alongside 

JFK and Vietnam 


the South Vietnamese troops they were advising. In spite of JFK's having 
ruled out U.S. combat units, he was being moved along step by step by his 
military command toward the brink of just such a commitment. 

His order to McNamara, and from McNamara to the generals, to open 
up the opposite option of withdrawal, was going nowhere. General Harkins 
continued to drag his heels on a withdrawal plan. A report on McNamara's 
next SECDEF conference, held October 8, 1962, in Honolulu, states: "Gen- 
eral Harkins did not have time to present his plan for phasing out US per- 
sonnel in Viet-Nam within 3 years." 151 At this meeting McNamara did not 
push Harkins, probably because Kennedy did not push McNamara. At the 
time JFK was preoccupied with reports of Soviet missiles being sent secretly 
to Cuba, which when confirmed a week later would begin the October 16- 
28, 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis. 

However, he did find time in the midst of the crisis to write an important 
letter to his friend Senator Mike Mansfield, who was becoming more and 
more critical of JFK's Vietnam policy. Kennedy asked Mansfield to visit Viet- 
nam and report back to him on what he learned there. It would turn out to 
be more than the president wanted to hear. 


ike Mansfield was in a unique position to advise Kennedy on Vietnam. 

When Lyndon Johnson became Vice President, Mansfield succeeded 
him as Senate Majority Leader, thereby becoming one of the most influen- 
tial people in Washington. Like John Kennedy, Mansfield had for years taken 
a special interest in Southeast Asia. He had visited Vietnam three times in the 
1950s. He was known as the Senate's authority on Indochina. Moreover, he 
had been singularly responsible for convincing the Eisenhower administra- 
tion to support the rise to power of Ngo Dinh Diem. Mansfield had endorsed 
Diem as a Vietnamese nationalist independent of both the French and the 
Viet Minh. The Senator's support proved so critical to the survival of Diem's 
government in the late fifties that Mansfield was known popularly as "Diem's 
godfather." 152 Nevertheless, by the fall of 1962, Mansfield had become 
opposed to the increasing U.S. commitment to a war in support of that same 
government. His reversal moved JFK to ask him to investigate the situation 

Mansfield's December 18, 1962, report was uncomfortable reading for 
the president. Mansfield wrote that Vietnam, outside its cities, was "run at 
least at night largely by the Vietcong. The government in Saigon is still seek- 
ing acceptance by the ordinary people in large areas of the countryside. Out 
of fear or indifference or hostility the peasants still withhold acquiescence, 
let alone approval of that government. In short, it would be well to face the 
fact that we are once again at the beginning of the beginning." 153 While con- 
tinuing to praise Ngo Dinh Diem, Mansfield questioned the capacity of the 
Saigon government — under the increasing dominance of Diem's manipulative 
brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu — to gain any popular support. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Mansfield cautioned Kennedy against trying to win a war in support of an 
unpopular government by "a truly massive commitment of American mili- 
tary personnel and other resources — in short going to war fully ourselves 
against the guerrillas — and the establishment of some form of neocolonial 
rule in South Vietnam." 154 To continue the president's policy, Mansfield 
warned, may "draw us inexorably into some variation of the unenviable 
position in Vietnam which was formerly occupied by the French." 155 

Kennedy was stunned by his friend's critique. He was again confronted by 
his own first understanding of Vietnam, shared first by Edmund Gullion, 
repeated by John Kenneth Galbraith, and now punched back into his con- 
sciousness by Mike Mansfield. The Senate Majority Leader's comparison 
between the French rule and JFK's policy stung the president. But the more 
Kennedy thought about Mansfield's challenging words, the more they struck 
him as the truth — a truth he didn't want to accept but had to. He summed 
up his reaction to the Mansfield report by a razor-sharp comment on him- 
self, made to aide Kenny O'Donnell: "I got angry with Mike for disagreeing 
with our policy so completely, and I got angry with myself because I found 
myself agreeing with him." 156 

By accepting the truth of Mansfield's critique of an increasingly disastrous 
policy, JFK turned a corner on Vietnam. Just as Ambassador Winthrop 
Brown's honest analysis had helped turn Kennedy toward a new policy in 
Laos, so did Mike Mansfield's critical report return him to an old truth on 
Vietnam. A little noted characteristic of John Kennedy, perhaps remarkable 
in a U.S. president, was his ability to listen and learn. 

Isaiah Berlin, the British philosopher, once observed of Kennedy: "I've 

never known a man who listened to every single word that one uttered more 
attentively. And he replied always very relevantly. He didn't obviously have 
ideas in his own mind which he wanted to expound, or for which he simply 
used one's own talk as an occasion, as a sort of launching pad. He really lis- 
tened to what one said and answered that. 1 " 157 

The way John Kenneth Galbraith put it was: "The President faced a 
speaker with his wide gray-blue eyes and total concentration. So also a paper 
or an article. And, so far as one could tell, once it was his it was his forever." 158 

Mike Mansfield said of Kennedy's response to his critique: "President 
Kennedy didn't waste words. He was pretty sparse with his language. But it 
was not unusual for him to shift position. There is no doubt that he had 
shifted definitely and unequivocally on Vietnam but he never had the chance 
to put the plan into effect." 159 

Kennedy was now on the alert to remove any obstacles from the way to 
a future withdrawal from Vietnam. On January 25, 1963, he phoned Roger 
Hilsman, the head of State Department intelligence, at his home to complain 
about a front-page box in the New York Times on a U.S. general visiting 
Vietnam. In what Hilsman remembered as "decidedly purple language," 160 
Kennedy took him to task. He ordered Hilsman to stop military visits that 
seemed to increase the U.S. commitment in Vietnam. 

JFK and Vietnam 


Kennedy said, "That is exactly what I don't want to do. Remember Laos," 
he emphasized. "The United States must keep a low profile in Vietnam so we 
can negotiate its neutralization like we did in Laos." 161 

After listening to the angry president, Hilsman pointed out that he had no 
authority as a State Department officer to deny a Pentagon general permis- 
sion to visit Vietnam. 

"Oh," said Kennedy and slammed down the phone. That afternoon the 
president issued National Security Action Memorandum Number 217, for- 
bidding "high ranking military and civilian personnel" from going to South 
Vietnam without being cleared by the State Department office where Hilsman 
worked. 162 This action by JFK, reining in the military's travel to Vietnam, 
for the sake of a neutralization policy, did not please the Pentagon. 

ven as Kennedy turned toward a withdrawal from Vietnam, he contin- 
ued to say publicly that he was opposed to just such a change in policy. 
At his March 6, 1963, press conference, a reporter asked him to comment on 
Mansfield's recommendation for a reduction in aid to the Far East. 

The president responded: "I don't see how we are going to be able, unless 
we are going to pull out of Southeast Asia and turn it over to the Commu- 
nists, how we are going to be able to reduce very much our economic 
programs and military programs in South Viet-Nam, in Cambodia, in Thai- 
land ..." 

As Mansfield knew, Kennedy was in fact changing his mind in favor of a 
complete military withdrawal from Vietnam. However, JFK thought such a 
policy would never be carried out by any of his possible opponents in the 
1964 election, and that its announcement now would block his own reelec- 
tion. Neither of the two most likely Republican presidential candidates, New 
York governor Nelson Rockefeller or Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, had 
any tolerance whatsoever for a possible withdrawal from Vietnam. In the 
context of 1963 presidential Cold War politics, a Vietnam withdrawal was 
the unthinkable. President John F. Kennedy was not only thinking the 
unthinkable. He was on the verge of doing it. But he wanted to be able to do 
it — by being reelected president. So he lied to the public about what he was 

Kennedy made all this explicit in a conversation with Mike Mansfield. It 
happened in the spring of 1963 after Mansfield again criticized the president 
on Vietnam, this time at a White House breakfast attended by the leading 
members of Congress. Kennedy was annoyed by the criticism before col- 
leagues, but invited Mansfield into his office to talk about Vietnam. Kenny 
O'Donnell, who sat in on part of their meeting, has described it: 

"The President told Mansfield that he had been having serious second 
thoughts about Mansfield's argument and that he now agreed with the Sen- 
ator's thinking on the need for a complete military withdrawal from 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

"'But I can't do it until 1965 — after I'm reelected,' Kennedy told Mans- 

"President Kennedy explained, and Mansfield agreed with him, that if he 
announced a withdrawal of American military personnel from Vietnam 
before the 1964 election, there would be a wild conservative outcry against 
returning him to the Presidency for a second term. 

"After Mansfield left the office, the President said to me, 'In 1965, I'll 
become one of the most unpopular Presidents in history. I'll be damned every- 
where as a Communist appeaser. But I don't care. If I tried to pull out com- 
pletely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare 
on our hands, but I can do it after I'm reelected. So we had better make 
damned sure that I am reelected.'" 163 

Nevertheless, to government insiders, Kennedy began to tip his hand. In 
preparation for a complete military withdrawal from Vietnam by 1965, the 

president wanted to initiate the decision-making process in 1963. Yet he still 
didn't even have the plan for withdrawal he had asked his military leaders, 
through McNamara, to draw up a year ago. 

Finally, at the May 6, 1963, SECDEF Conference in Honolulu, the Pacific 
Command presented the president's long-sought plan. However, McNamara 
immediately had to reject its extended time line, which was so slow that U.S. 
numbers would not even reach a minimum level until fiscal year 1966. 164 
The Defense Secretary said he wanted the pace revised "to speed up replace- 
ment of U.S. units by GVN units as fast as possible." 165 

The May 1963 meeting in Honolulu took place one month before 
Kennedy would give his American University address. It is in the context of 
that dawning light of peace in the spring of 1963, when Kennedy and 
Khrushchev were about to begin their rapprochement, that McNamara again 
shocked his military hierarchy on Vietnam. He ordered them to begin an 
actual U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam that fall. As the Pentagon Papers 
described this change of tide, McNamara "decided that 1,000 U.S. military 
personnel should be withdrawn from South Vietnam by the end of Calendar 

Year 63 and directed that concrete plans be so drawn up." 166 

McNamara's startling order would be met with more resistance by the 
Joint Chiefs. They saw where Kennedy was going, on Vietnam as on the 
Cold War in general. They were not going to go there with him. 

he Diem government in South Vietnam was alarmed by the Mansfield 
report, as the U.S. government knew. Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, 
whom Mansfield had singled out for criticism, understood precisely what 
the report meant. As a State Department memorandum noted, "The reaction 
[to the Mansfield report] within the GVN [Government of Vietnam], par- 
ticularly at the higher levels, has been sharp. We are informed by Saigon that 
the GVN, and in particular Counselor Ngo Dinh Nhu, sees the report as a 
possible prelude to American withdrawal." 167 

Ngo Dinh Nhu told U.S. embassy official John Mecklin in Saigon on 

JFK and Vietnam 


March 5, 1963, that the Mansfield report was "treachery." 168 Nhu added 
that "it changes everything." When Mecklin objected that the report was 
not U.S. government policy, Nhu, he thought, doubted the explanation "on 
the assumption that [the report] could not have been released without the 
President's approval." 169 

President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother-adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were 
both deeply aware that Mike Mansfield had for years been Diem's greatest 
supporter in the U.S. Senate. For Mansfield, now as Senate Majority Leader, 
to give such a stinging report to his close friend, President John F. Kennedy, 
was for the Ngo brothers more than a hint of a change in U.S. policy. They 
surmised correctly that the president was deciding to withdraw from Viet- 
nam. Diem and Nhu therefore began to make their own adjustments to a 
U.S. withdrawal. 


n April 4, 1963, President Diem told U.S. ambassador Frederick Nolt- 

ing that the U.S. government had too many Americans stationed in South 
Vietnam. Nolting reported to the State Department in a telegram the next day 
that Diem had become convinced that Americans, by their very number and 
zeal, were advising his government in too much detail on too many mat- 
ters. 170 The Vietnamese people were thereby being given the impression that 
South Vietnam was "a U.S. protectorate." The remedy, Diem said, was to 
gradually cut back the number of U.S. advisers, thus restoring his govern- 
ment's control over the situation. To Nolting's dismay, Diem also said that 
he would no longer allow the United States to control any of the counterin- 
surgency funds that came from the South Vietnamese government. 171 

Nolting said in his State Department telegram that he was "gravely con- 
cerned and perplexed" by Diem's abrupt declaration of independence from 
the United States. The South Vietnamese president even seemed to have a 
sense of peace about taking a stand that could prove threatening to himself. 
Diem "gave the impression," Nolting wired, "of one who would rather be 
right, according to his lights, than President." 172 

Diem's brother, Nhu, sounded the same theme of independence when he 
met on April 12 with CIA station chief John Richardson. Nhu said the Amer- 
icans should recall that Diem "had spent a great part of his life in reaction 
against and resistance to French domination." 173 Nhu was reminding the 

U.S. government of that trait in his brother's character and beliefs that had 
so impressed Senators John Kennedy and Mike Mansfield a decade earlier 
Diem's stubborn nationalism, which had once kept him independent of both 
the French and the Viet Minh. It was therefore not surprising, Nhu pointed 
out, that Diem was now deciding to resist U.S. controls that implied a pro- 
tectorate status. 

Nhu, like Diem, wanted fewer Americans in Vietnam. He told the Saigon 
CIA chief "that it would be useful to reduce the numbers of Americans by 
anywhere from 500 to 3,000 or 4,000. " 174 

Nhu was delivering this unwelcome message directly to a key representa- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

tive of the institution most involved in trying to control the South Vietnamese 
government: the CIA. It was the CIA that, operating under its front organi- 
zation, the Agency for International Development (AID), had already man- 
aged to put advisers in at least twenty of the government's forty-one 
provinces. 175 William Colby, Richardson's predecessor at the CIA's Saigon 
station, said that even by early 1962, "the station had contacts and influ- 
ence throughout Vietnam, from the front and rear doors of the Palace, to 
the rural communities, among the civilian opponents of the regime and the 
commanders of all the key military units." 176 In April 1963, when the Ngo 
brothers declared their intent to reassert control over their own government, 
the CIA was pushing hard to have a controlling agent working alongside 
every province chief in South Vietnam. Just as the U.S. military wanted total 
control over the South Vietnamese army, so did the CIA want total control 
at every level of the civilian hierarchy. That was why Diem and Nhu used the 
all-inclusive term "Americans" for what they wanted many fewer of — fewer 
American advisers of every kind: CIA, military, whatever. Our Vietnamese 
were getting tired of being told by Americans what decisions they had to 
make to keep themselves free from domination by other Vietnamese. 

As of mid-April 1963, Diem and Nhu were suddenly steering the South 
Vietnamese government in a more independent direction, asking that Amer- 
icans of every stripe be withdrawn from Vietnam. The Pentagon had already 
become aware of Diem's resistance to a widening of the U.S. military pres- 
ence in Vietnam. Diem had been telling more and more people that he would 
never agree to the new air and naval bases the United States wanted to estab- 
lish in his country. In July 1962, during an inspection of Cam Ranh Bay, he 

pointed to a mountain and said to his aides, "The Americans want a base 
there but I shall never accept that." 177 Diem also shared his rejection of U.S. 
military bases with the French ambassador. But by April 1963, Diem wasn't 
just resisting more bases. Now he wanted the U.S. to withdraw thousands of 
its people who were already in South Vietnam. 

The military and the CIA were alarmed at the Ngo brothers' change of 
course. On the other hand, the Ngos' turn toward autonomy held the hope 
for JFK of facilitating his decision to withdraw from Vietnam, shared with 
Mike Mansfield and understood by the Ngos in response to the Mansfield 
report. A Kennedy withdrawal policy had now become more feasible, if done 
in conjunction with Diem's desire that Vietnam "not become a U.S. protec- 
torate." Diem and Nhu had decided they wanted their government and army 
back, in sudden response to JFK's desire to give them back. It was a ripe and 
dangerous moment. 

On May 6, Kennedy began to implement his withdrawal policy through 
the order McNamara gave the generals at the Honolulu conference that one 
thousand U.S. military personnel be pulled out of South Vietnam by the end 
of the year. For a few days, the time seemed hopeful for a convergence of 
interests between Kennedy and Diem leading toward a U.S. withdrawal. 
Then on May 8, 1963, mysterious explosions set off in the South Vietnamese 

JFK and Vietnam 


city of Hue began a chain reaction of events that in the next six months 
would obliterate the hope of a Kennedy-Diem alliance for peace, overthrow 

the Diem government, and result in the November 2 assassinations of Diem 
and Nhu. 

n May 8, the fateful Buddhist crisis of South Vietnam began to simmer 
in Hue, as thousands of Buddhists gathered to celebrate the 2507 birth- 
day of Buddha. The South Vietnamese government had just revived a dor- 
mant regulation against flying any religious flags publicly. That public honor 
had been reserved by the Diem government exclusively for the national flag. 
It was a part of Diem's "uphill struggle to give some sense of nationhood to 
Vietnamese of all faiths," 178 as the New York Herald Tribune's Marguerite 
Higgins wrote. It was claimed later that the enforcement of Diem's nation- 
alist order was provoked ironically by fellow Catholics who had flown the 
Vatican flag in Da Nang a few days earlier. In any case, the edict from the 
Catholic president of South Vietnam was proclaimed in Hue on the eve of the 
Buddha's birthday, when Buddhist flags were already flying. In response the 
next morning, the Buddhist monk Thich Tri Quang gave a spirited speech to 

a crowd at Hue's Tu Dam Pagoda protesting the order. Tri Quang accused 
the government of religious persecution. The crowd responded enthusiasti- 
cally. 179 

What happened next, as described here, is based on Ellen J. Hammer's A 
Death in November, Marguerite Higgins's Our Vietnam Nightmare, and tes- 
timony received by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission to South Viet- 
Nam in October 1963. 180 

On the evening of May 8, encouraged by Tri Quang and other Buddhist 
leaders, a crowd gathered outside the government radio station in Hue. At 
about 8:00 P.M., Tri Quang arrived carrying a tape recording of his morning 
speech. He and the people demanded that the tape be broadcast that night. 
When the station director refused, the crowd became insistent, pushing 
against the station's doors and windows. Firefighters used water hoses to 
drive them back. The station director put in a call for help to the province 
security chief, Major Dang Sy. As Dang Sy and his security officers were 
approaching the area in armored cars about fifty meters away, two power- 
ful explosions blasted the people on the veranda of the station, killing seven 
on the spot and fatally wounding a child. At least fifteen others were injured. 

Major Dang Sy claimed later that he thought the explosions were the begin- 
ning of a Viet Cong attack. He ordered his men to disperse the crowd with per- 
cussion grenades, crowd-control weapons that were described by a U.S. Army 
Field Manual as nonlethal. However, from the moment the armored cars 
drove up and the percussion grenades were thrown, Major Dang Sy and the 
South Vietnamese government were blamed for the night's casualties by Thich 
Tri Quang and the Buddhist movement. The Buddhists' interpretation of the 
event was adopted quickly by the U.S. media and government. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Dr. Le Khac Quyen, the hospital director at Hue, said after examining the 
victims' bodies that he had never seen such injuries. The bodies had been 
decapitated. He found no metal in the corpses, only holes. There were no 
wounds below the chest. In his official finding, Dr. Quyen ruled that "the 
death of the people was caused by an explosion which took place in 
midair," 181 blowing off their heads and mutilating their bodies. 

Neither the Buddhists nor the government liked his verdict. Although Dr. 
Quyen was a disciple of Thich Tri Quang and a government opposition 
leader, his finding frustrated his Buddhist friends because it tended to exon- 
erate Diem's security police. They were apparently incapable of inflicting the 
kinds of wounds he described. On the other hand, the government impris- 
oned Dr. Quyen for refusing to sign a medical certificate it had drawn up 
that claimed the victims' wounds came from a type of bomb made by the Viet 
Cong — something Quyen didn't know and wouldn't certify. 182 

The absence of any metal in the bodies or on the radio station's veranda 
pointed to powerful plastic bombs as the source of the explosions. However, 
the Saigon government's eagerness to identify plastic bombs with its enemy, 
the Viet Cong, was questionable. As Ellen Hammer pointed out in her inves- 
tigation of the incident, "In later years, men who had served with the Viet 
Cong at that time denied they had any plastic that could have produced such 
destruction." 183 

Who did possess such powerful plastic bombs? 

An answer is provided by Graham Greene's prophetic novel The Quiet 
American, based on historical events that occurred in Saigon eleven years 
before the bombing in Hue. Greene was in Saigon on January 9, 1952, when 

two bombs exploded in the city's center, killing ten and injuring many more. 
A picture of the scene, showing a man with his legs blown off, appeared in 
Life magazine as the "Picture of the Week." The Life caption said the Saigon 
bombs had been "planted by VietMinh Communists" and "signaled general 
intensification of the Viet Minh violence." 184 In like manner, the New York 

Times headlined: "Reds' Time Bombs Rip Saigon Center." 185 

In Saigon, Graham Greene knew the bombs had been planted and claimed 
proudly not by the Viet Minh but by a warlord, General The, whom Greene 
knew. General The's bombing material, a U.S. plastic, had been supplied to 
him by his sponsor, the Central Intelligence Agency. Greene observed in his 
memoir, Ways of Escape, it was no coincidence that "the Life photographer 
at the moment of the explosion was so well placed that he was able to take 
an astonishing and horrifying photograph which showed the body of a 
trishaw driver still upright after his legs had been blown off." 186 The CIA 
had set the scene, alerting the Life photographer and Times reporter so they 
could convey the terrorist bombing as the work of "Viet Minh Communists" 
to a mass audience. 187 

Horrified and inspired by what he knew, Graham Greene wrote the truth 
in his novel, portraying a quiet American CIA agent as the primary source 
of the Saigon bombing. In The Quiet American, Greene used the CIA's plas- 

JFK and Vietnam 


tic as a mysterious motif, specifically mentioned in ten passages, 188 whose 
deadly meaning was revealed finally in the Saigon explosions blamed falsely 
on the communists. 

A decade later, plastic bombs were still a weapon valued in covert U.S. 
plots designed to scapegoat an unsuspecting target. In March 1962, as we 
have seen, General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
proposed "exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots" in the 
United States, then arresting and blaming Cuban agents for the terrorist 
acts. 189 

In May 1963, Diem's younger brother, Ngo Dinh Can, who ruled Hue, 
thought from the beginning that the Viet Cong had nothing to do with the 
explosions at the radio station. According to an investigation carried out by 
the Catholic newspaper Hoa Binh, Ngo Dinh Can and his advisers were 
"convinced the explosions had to be the work of an American agent who 
wanted to make trouble for Diem." 190 In 1970 Hoa Binh located such a man, 
a Captain Scott, who in later years became a U.S. military adviser in the 
Mekong Delta. Scott had come to Hue from Da Nang on May 7, 1963. He 
admitted he was the American agent responsible for the bombing at the radio 
station the next day. He said he used "an explosive that was still secret and 
known only to certain people in the Central Intelligence Agency, a charge 
no larger than a matchbox with a timing device." 191 

Hue's Buddhists were incensed by a massacre they attributed to the Diem 
government. The U.S. Embassy in Saigon acted quickly in support of the 
Buddhists. Ambassador Frederick Nolting urged Diem to accept responsi- 
bility for the May 8 incident, as the Buddhists demanded. Diem agreed to 
compensate the victims' families, but said that he would never assume 
responsibility for a crime his government had not in fact committed. 192 

s the Buddhist crisis began to unfold, the Ngo brothers shocked the U.S. 
government by publicizing in Washington their wish for far fewer Amer- 
icans in Vietnam. On Sunday, May 12, an article based on an interview with 
Ngo Dinh Nhu appeared on the front page of the Washington Post head- 
lined: "Viet-Nam Wants 50% of GIs Out." 193 The article began: "South Viet- 
Nam would like to see half of the 12,000 to 13,000 American military 
personnel stationed here leave the country." 194 

Ngo Dinh Nhu told Post reporter Warren Unna that "at least 50 per cent 
of the U.S. troops in Viet-Nam are not absolutely necessary." Their unnec- 
essary presence simply reinforced the Communists' claim that "it is not the 
people of Viet-Nam who are fighting this war," 195 only a colonial power giv- 
ing them orders. 

Moreover, Nhu and Diem distrusted Americans working at local levels in 
Vietnam. Many of them, Nhu said pointedly, were nothing more than U.S. 
intelligence agents. 196 

"Five months ago I told the American authorities that it was possible to 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

withdraw about one half of the Americans," 197 Nhu said, thus dating his ear- 
lier wish for fewer Americans to December 1962, when Mike Mansfield had 
made his report to the president urging a similar policy. 

Putting a pro-Kennedy spin on his remarks, Nhu said that a large with- 
drawal of Americans from Vietnam "could do something spectacular to help 
show the success of the Kennedy Government's policy in Viet-Nam." 198 

The Ngo brothers had preempted Kennedy. They had succeeded, for the 

moment, in proclaiming their ardent wish for a U.S. withdrawal that JFK 

had already quietly decided upon. 

Making the connection, the Post article noted that, although "no formal 

request to withdraw troops has ever been made" by South Vietnam, the meet- 
ing earlier that week in Honolulu of "top American military and civilian offi- 
cials" presided over by McNamara "is known to have focused on the 
problem. A compromise reportedly was reached in which Viet-Nam will 
assume that about a thousand of the U.S. troops here will be withdrawn 
within a year." 199 

It was suddenly becoming evident in Washington, D.C., that a U.S. with- 
drawal was in the works, now in apparent response to the wishes of the 
South Vietnamese government. However, Ngo Dinh Nhu's remarks provoked 
quick rebuttals. 

The Washington Post was outraged by his call for a U.S. withdrawal. A 
Post editorial tried to dismiss Nhu's desire for 50 percent fewer Americans 
in Vietnam by linking it with his government's failure to carry out the reforms 
necessary for a victory over the communists. The Post editors asked in dis- 

"How long must the United States help President Diem to lose his war 
and waste its money, to delay the reforms that alone might gather his regime 
the popular support that victory requires?" 200 

Kennedy's Cold War advisers were also alarmed. Secretary of State Dean 
Rusk cabled the U.S. Embassy in Saigon he was worried that Nhu's public 
call for a cut in U.S. forces was "likely [to] generate new and reinforce 
already existing US domestic pressures for complete withdrawal from 
SVN." 201 Roger Hilsman appealed to Ambassador Nolting to try to restrain 

Nhu in his public remarks lest there be "considerable domestic criticism and 
opposition to our Viet-Nam policy as direct result." 202 

The only person in the administration who seems to have welcomed Nhu's 
encouragement of a U.S. withdrawal was President Kennedy. Asked about it 
at his May 22 press conference, JFK said all the Ngo brothers had to do was 
make their request official, then the process of withdrawal would begin: "we 
would withdraw the troops, any number of troops, any time the Govern- 
ment of South Viet-Nam would suggest it. The day after it was suggested, we 
would have some troops on their way home. That is number one." 203 

Kennedy then took advantage of the opportunity to introduce the public 
gingerly to his own closely held withdrawal plan: 

"Number two is: we are hopeful that the situation in South Viet-Nam 

JFK and Vietnam 


would permit some withdrawal in any case by the end of the year, but we 
can't possibly make that judgment at the present time ... I couldn't say that 
today the situation is such that we could look for a brightening in the skies 
that would permit us to withdraw troops or begin to by the end of this year. 
But I would say, if requested to, we will do it immediately." 104 

JFK and Diem were signaling their mutual hopes for a U.S. withdrawal. 
But Diem was too late in doing so to join forces with Kennedy. Any hope of 
his coming together with JFK in a withdrawal policy had already been effec- 
tively blocked by the opposite forces released in the Buddhist movement and 
Diem's government by the explosions in Hue on May 8. 

The Buddhist crisis was gaining steam. On May 15, a delegation of Bud- 
dhist leaders met with Diem, demanding that discrimination against Bud- 
dhists cease and that his government accept responsibility for those killed at 
Hue. Diem agreed to investigate the charges of discrimination. But he said 
that the Buddhists were "damn fools" to be concerned about a right of reli- 
gious freedom guaranteed by the constitution. "And I am the constitution," 
Diem added. 205 

In regard to May 8, he again promised aid to the victims' families, but 
refused to declare the government at fault for a crime he thought others had 
committed. Ambassador Nolting wired Washington that, on the contrary, 

the South Vietnamese government needed to accept "responsibility for 
actions [of] its authorities during Hue riot." 206 

The Buddhists were frustrated by their meeting with Diem. They organ- 
ized marches, hunger strikes, and memorial services honoring the dead at 
Hue. Diem chose a hard line in response to the protests. Demonstrators were 
dispersed by government troops using tear gas. 

Even as President Kennedy said eagerly of a U.S. withdrawal from Viet- 
nam, "if requested to, we will do it immediately," the only government that 
could have made such a request was discrediting itself beyond any possibil- 
ity of recovery. Diem's increasingly brutal response to a movement he didn't 
understand was turning his already unpopular government into an interna- 
tional pariah. As the Buddhist crisis deepened, Kennedy saw Diem's repres- 
sion of the Buddhists as a confirmation of Mansfield's diagnosis that Diem 
was unable to gain popular support from the Vietnamese people. It strength- 
ened JFK's decision to carry out in Vietnam the same kind of neutralization 
policy he had chosen for Laos. However, he would have to overcome the 
political obstacle of a South Vietnamese government that was becoming 

On May 9, the day after the Hue explosions, Roger Hilsman had been 
confirmed by the Senate in his new State Department position as the primary 
officer responsible for Vietnam. During the next month, President Kennedy 
ordered Hilsman to prepare for the neutralization of Vietnam. Hilsman said 
later in an interview: 

"[Kennedy] began to instruct me, as Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern 
Affairs, to position ourselves to do in Vietnam what we had done in Laos, 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

i.e., to negotiate the neutralization of Vietnam. He had made a decision on 
this. He did not make it public of course, but he had certainly communi- 
cated it to me as I say, in four-letter words, good earthy anglo-saxon four-let- 
ter words, and every time that I failed to do something [in a way] he felt 
endangered this position, he let me know in very clear language." 207 

As spring turned into the summer of 1963, President John F. Kennedy had 
decided to withdraw the U.S. military and neutralize Vietnam, just as he had 
done in Laos. When he said that one day to his aides Dave Powers and Kenny 
O'Donnell, they asked him bluntly: How could he do it? How could he carry 
out a military withdrawal from Vietnam without losing American prestige in 
Southeast Asia? 

"Easy," the president said. "Put a government in there that will ask us to 
leave." 208 

It was a contradictory formula for peace. It was also easier said than done. 
By June 1963, Kennedy had been manipulated by forces more powerful than 
his presidency into the beginning stages of a process that was the opposite of 
his stated intention. He was succumbing to pressures to take out a govern- 
ment in Vietnam that had just shown itself on the verge of asking the U.S. to 
leave — precisely what Kennedy knew he most needed to facilitate a with- 
drawal. While aware of the irony, JFK was afraid that Diem was personally 
incapable of reversing the suicidal course he had chosen. Under his brother 
Nhu's dominant influence, Diem was trying to repress a popular Buddhist 
uprising, which was thereby bound to turn into a revolution. Diem, Kennedy 
concluded, was a hopeless case. JFK's now more extended hope was that, 
after the Diem government's inevitable fall, he would then be able to "put a 
government in there that will ask us to leave." 

Besides the inherent contradiction of trying to impose peace on a client 

state, Kennedy also had the problem of time. He only had six months left to 

live. On June 10, 1963, at American University, he began those six months 
by turning toward an inspiring vision of peace. But how much of that vision 

could he realize, in Vietnam and elsewhere, before his assassins would strike? 


Marked Out for Assassination 

ohn Kennedy was not afraid to die. Nor was he lacking in the practice of 
living while dying. By the time he reached the White House, he had gone 
through a series of near-death experiences from repeated illness. The physi- 
cal pain Kennedy endured from childhood to death was excruciating. "At 
least one half of the days that he spent on this earth," Robert Kennedy said, 
"were days of intense physical pain." 1 He masked his pain by a deceptively 
sunny detachment. In a rare comment on the pain he felt regularly in his 
back, JFK told his wife and a couple of friends that "he thought he could 
stand any kind and any amount of pain, provided he knew that it would 

end." 2 

He knew the threat of death as pain's companion. He nearly died of scar- 
let fever as a child, of a blood condition as a teenager, from the ramming of 
his FT 109 by a Japanese destroyer in the Solomon Islands, and from recur- 
rences of malaria during and after the war. In the Solomons, he risked his life 
to the point of total exhaustion in efforts to save the lives of his crewmem- 
bers. In one such attempt, he lost consciousness in the middle of Ferguson 
Passage and drifted through a night of delirium to the edge of an open sea. 
Then the current moved him through a huge circle back to the start of his 
odyssey and new life. Kennedy knew death intimately. When he met death 
again in the gaze of his generals, he was not afraid. 

In a new foreword to John Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, Robert Kennedy 
wrote shortly after his brother's death, "Courage is the virtue that President 
Kennedy most admired. He sought out those people who had demonstrated 
in some way, whether it was on a battlefield or a baseball diamond, in a speech 
or fighting for a cause, that they had courage, that they would stand up, that 
they could be counted on." 3 The issue on which his brother most valued 
courage, Robert said, was in preventing nuclear war and "the specter of the 
death of the children of this country and around the world." 4 



JFK and the Unspeakable 

JFK had been inspired to write Profiles in Courage during another one of 
his bouts with death, in the course of a long hospitalization and convales- 
cence from a spinal operation in 1954. The book's theme was "political 
courage in the face of constituent pressures." 5 Although Kennedy's stories 
of political courage were drawn mainly from the Senate, he gave one reveal- 
ing example of a president who followed his conscience against "the pres- 
sures of constituent and special interests": 

"President George Washington stood by the Jay Treaty with Great Britain 
to save our young nation from a war it could not survive, despite his knowl- 
edge that it would be immensely unpopular among a people ready to fight. 
Tom Paine told the President that he was 'treacherous in private friendship 
and a hypocrite in public . . . The world will be puzzled to decide whether 
you are an apostate or imposter; whether you have abandoned good princi- 
ples, or whether you ever had any.' With bitter exasperation, Washington 
exclaimed: "I would rather be in my grave than in the Presidency'; and to Jef- 
ferson he wrote: 

'I am accused of being the enemy of America, and subject to the influence 
of a foreign country . . . and every act of my administration is tortured, in 

such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to Nero, 
to a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket. "* 

Kennedy commented on Washington, "But he stood firm." 6 Washington 
had resisted the pressures for a war his newly born country could not have 
survived. Kennedy in his presidency had to keep on resisting the pressures for 
a war neither his country nor the world could have survived. 

The pressures on President Kennedy came less from constituents than from 
the weapons-making corporations that thrived on the Cold War, and from 
the Pentagon and the CIA that were dedicated to "winning" that war, what- 
ever that might mean. For JFK, who stood virtually alone in the Oval Office 
against these forces, the question of political courage became more intense 
than it was in any of the conflicts he described in Profiles in Courage. 

he political context of Kennedy's assassination was described best by the 

president who preceded him. 

On January 17, 1961, three days before JFK was inaugurated as presi- 
dent, Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address warned of a new threat 
to freedom from within the United States. In response to a threat from with- 
out, Eisenhower said, "We have been compelled to create a permanent arma- 
ments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million 
men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annu- 
ally spend on military security more than the net income of all United States 

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms 
industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, 
political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of 

Marked Out for Assassination 


the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this develop- 
ment. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, 
resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. 

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of 
unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-indus- 
trial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists 
and will persist. 

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties 
or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted." 7 

Eisenhower himself never used the power of his presidency to challenge 
this new threat to democracy. He simply identified it in a memorable way 
when he was about to leave office. He thereby passed on the possibility of 
resisting it to his successor. 

In Kennedy's short presidency, the military-industrial complex actually 
increased its profits and power. JFK's initial call to develop a military 
response to the Soviet Union and its allies that would be "more flexible" 
than the Eisenhower policy of mutual assured destruction expanded the Pen- 
tagon's contracts with U.S. corporations. Yet in the summer of 1963, the 
leaders of the military-industrial complex could see storm clouds on their 
horizon. After JFK's American University address and his quick signing of the 
Test Ban Treaty with Khrushchev, corporate power holders saw the distinct 
prospect in the not distant future of a settlement in the Cold War between 
the United States and the Soviet Union. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev were 
prepared to shift their war of conflicting ideologies to more peaceful fronts. 
Kennedy wanted a complete ban on the testing of nuclear weapons, then 
mutual steps in nuclear disarmament. He saw a willing partner in 

Khrushchev, who wanted to ease the huge burden of arms expenditures on 
the Soviet economy. In that direction of U.S. -Soviet disarmament lay the 
diminished power of a corporate military system that for years had con- 
trolled the United States government. In his turn toward peace, Kennedy was 
beginning to undermine the dominant power structure that Eisenhower had 
finally identified and warned against so strongly as he left the White House. 
In 1962 Kennedy had already profoundly alienated key elements of the 
military-industrial complex in the steel crisis. The conflict arose from JFK's 
preoccupation with steel prices, whose rise he believed "quickly drove up 
the price of everything else." 8 The president therefore brokered a contract, 
signed on April 6, 1962, in which the United Steelworkers union accepted a 
modest settlement from the United States Steel Company, with the under- 
standing that the company would help keep inflation down by not raising 
steel prices. Kennedy phoned identical statements of appreciation to union 
headquarters and the company managers, congratulating each for having 

reached an agreement that was "obviously non-inflationary." 9 When he fin- 
ished the calls, he told adviser Ted Sorensen that the union members "cheered 
and applauded their own sacrifice," whereas the company representatives 
were "ice-cold" to him. 10 It was a foretaste of the future. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

On April 10, 1962, Roger Blough, chairman of U.S. Steel, asked to meet 
with Kennedy. At 5:45 P.M., seated next to JFK, Blough said, "Perhaps the 
easiest way I can explain the purpose of my visit . . . ," n and handed Kennedy 
four mimeographed pages. Blough knew the press release in the president's 
hands was being passed out simultaneously to the media by other U.S. Steel 
representatives. It stated that U.S. Steel, "effective at 12:01 A.M. tomorrow, 
will raise the price of the company's steel products by an average of about 
3.5 percent . . ." 12 

Kennedy read the statement, recognizing immediately that he and the 
steelworkers had been double-crossed by U.S. Steel. He looked up at Blough 
and said, "You've made a terrible mistake." 13 

After Blough departed, Kennedy shared the bad news with a group of his 
advisers. They had never seen him so angry. He said, "My father always told 
me that all businessmen were sons-of-bitches, but I never believed it until 
now." 14 His explosive remark appeared in the New York Times on April 23, 
1962. 15 The corporate world never forgot it. 

He phoned steelworkers union president David McDonald and said, 
"Dave, you've been screwed and I've been screwed." 16 

The next morning U.S. Steel was joined in its price increase by Bethlehem 
Steel, the second largest company, and soon after by four others. In response 
Kennedy mustered every resource he could to force the steel companies to roll 
back their prices. He began at the Defense Department. 

Defense contracts were critical to "Big Steel," an industry that embodied 
the intertwined influence with the Pentagon that Eisenhower had warned 
against. Defense Secretary McNamara told the president that the combined 
impact in defense costs from the raise in steel prices would be a billion dol- 
lars. Kennedy ordered him to start shifting steel purchases at once to the 
smaller companies that had not yet joined in the raise. McNamara 
announced that a steel-plate order previously divided between U.S. Steel and 
Lukens Steel, a tiny steel company that had not raised prices, would now go 
entirely to Lukens. 17 Walter Heller, who chaired the President's Council of 
Economic Advisers, "calculated that the government used so much steel that 
it could shift as much as 9 percent of the industry's total business away from 
the six companies that had announced price rises to six that were still hold- 
ing back." 18 The president even ordered the Defense Department to take its 
steel business overseas, if that were necessary to keep defense contracts away 
from U.S. Steel and its cohorts. 19 Big Steel executives saw that Kennedy meant 
business, their business — and that substantial Cold War profits were already 
being drained away from them. 

Attorney General Robert Kennedy moved quickly to convene a federal 
grand jury to investigate price fixing in Big Steel's corporate network. He 
looked into the steel companies' possible violation of anti-trust laws, an 
investigation his Anti-Trust Division had actually begun before the steel cri- 
sis. He now ordered the FBI to move on the steel executives with speed and 
thoroughness. As RFK said later in an interview, "We were going to go for 

Marked Out for Assassination 


broke: their expense accounts and where they'd been and what they were 
doing. I picked up all their records and I told the FBI to interview them all 
march into their offices the next day. We weren't going to go slowly. I said 
to have them done all over the country. All of them were hit with meetings 
the next morning by agents. All of them were subpoenaed for their personal 
records. All of them were subpoenaed for their company records." 20 

Steel executives suddenly found themselves being treated as if they were 
enemies of the people. The president then stated that they were precisely 
that. He opened his April 1 1 press conference by saying: 

"Simultaneous and identical actions of United States Steel and other lead- 
ing steel corporations increasing steel prices by some $6 a ton constitute a 
wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest . . . the 
American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a 
tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit 
exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for 
the interests of 185 million Americans." 21 

Reporters gasped at the intensity of Kennedy's attack on Big Steel. After 
describing the ways in which steel executives had defied the public interest, 
JFK concluded with an ironic reference to his inaugural address: 

"Some time ago I asked each American to consider what he would do for 

his country and I asked the steel companies. In the last 24 hours we had their 
answer." 22 

On April 12, Kennedy sent his lawyer, Clark Clifford, to serve as a medi- 
ator with U.S. Steel. The steel executives, feeling the heat from the White 
House, proposed a compromise. Clifford phoned the president to say, 
"Blough and his people want to know what you would say if they announce 
a partial rollback of the price increases, say 50 percent?" 

"I wouldn't say a damn thing," Kennedy replied. "It's the whole way." 23 

Clifford was instructed to say that "if U.S. Steel persisted, the President 
would use every tool available to turn the decision around." 24 That included 
especially switching more defense contracts away from them to more afford- 
able companies. There was to be no compromise. 

Clifford reported back to the steel heads that "the President was already 
setting in motion to use the full power of the Presidency to divert contracts 
from U.S. Steel and the other companies," adding that "he still had several 
actions in reserve, including tax audits, antitrust investigations, and a thor- 
ough probe of market practices." 25 The president was prepared to wage a 
domestic war against Big Steel's price increase. 

On April 13, 1962, Big Steel's executives surrendered. The first company 
to yield was Bethlehem Steel, another major defense contractor. The reason, 

reported back to the White House, was that "Bethlehem had gotten wind 
that it was to be excluded from bidding on the construction of three naval 
vessels the following week and decided to take quick action." 26 Bethlehem 
was followed soon by the giant, U.S. Steel. The president's offensive, backed 
by overwhelming public support, had been too much for them. All six steel 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

companies rescinded the entire price raise that their point man, Roger 
Blough, had conveyed to JFK as an accomplished fact three days before. 

As would be his attitude after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy, as 
Sorensen said, "permitted no gloating by any administration spokesman and 
no talk of retribution." 27 He was especially gracious toward Roger Blough, 
whom he subsequently invited often to the White House for consultations. 28 
When asked by a reporter at a press conference about his "rather harsh state- 
ment about businessmen," JFK revised his infamous s.o.b. remark. He said 
that his father, a businessman himself, had meant only "the steel men" with 
whom he had been "involved when he was a member of the Roosevelt 
administration in the 1937 strike." 29 

This explanation would not win the hearts of business leaders. As they 
knew, JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., while a businessman himself, had 
also been President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first chairman of the Securities 
and Exchange Commission (SEC). As a former Wall Street insider who knew 
the system, the senior Kennedy had cracked down on Wall Street profiteers. 
Some of the financial titans of the thirties regarded JFK's father as a class 
traitor, "the Judas of Wall Street," for his work on behalf of FDR. 30 It was 
in the light of Joseph Kennedy's fight to initiate government controls over 
Wall Street, and the opposition he encountered, that he made his all- 
businessmen-are-s.o.b.'s remark to JFK. 

That opinion of his father, President Kennedy told the press, "I found appro- 
priate that evening [when] we had not been treated altogether with frankness 
. . . But that's past, that's past. Now we're working together, I hope." 31 

It was a vain hope. John and Robert Kennedy had become notorious in 
the ranks of big business. JFK's strategy of withdrawing defense contracts 
and RFK's aggressive investigating tactics toward men of power were seen as 
unforgivable sins by the corporate world. As a result of the president's 
uncompromising stand against the steel industry — and implicitly any corpo- 
ration that chose to defy his authority — a bitter gap opened up between 
Kennedy and big business, whose most powerful elements coincided with 
the military-industrial complex. 

The depth of corporate hostility toward Kennedy after the steel crisis can 
be seen by an unsigned editorial in Fortune, media czar Henry Luce's mag- 
azine for the most fortunate. The editors of Fortune knew the decision to 
raise steel prices had been made by the executive committee of U.S. Steel's 
board of directors. It included top-level officers from other huge financial 
institutions, such as the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, the First National 
City Bank of New York, the Prudential Insurance Company, the Ford Foun- 
dation, and AT&T. 32 When Roger Blough handed U.S. Steel's provocative 
press release to the president, he did so on behalf of not only U.S. Steel but 
also these other financial giants in the United States. The Fortune editorial 
therefore posed an intriguing question: Why did the financial interests behind 
U.S. Steel announce the price increase in such a way as to deliberately "pro- 
voke the President of the U.S. into a vitriolic and demagogic assault?" 33 

Marked Out for Assassination 


With the authority of an insider's knowledge that it denied having, For- 
tune answered its own question: "There is a theory — unsupported by any 
direct evidence — that Blough was acting as a 'business statesman' rather than 
as a businessman judging his market." According to "this theory," Kennedy's 

prior appeal to steel executives not to raise prices, leading to the contract 
settlement between the company and the union, had "poised over the indus- 
try a threat of 'jawbone control' of prices. For the sake of his company, the 
industry, and the nation, Blough sought a way to break through the bland 

'harmony' that has recently prevailed between government and business." 34 
In plainer language, the president was acting too much like a president, 
rather than just another officeholder beholden to the powers that be. U.S. 
Steel on behalf of still higher financial interests therefore taunted Kennedy so 
as to present him with a dilemma: he either had to accept the price hike and 
lose credibility, or react as he did with power to roll back the increase and 
thereby unite the business world against him. His unswerving activist 
response then served to confirm the worst fears of corporate America: 

"That the threat of 'jawbone control' was no mere bugaboo was borne out 
by the tone of President Kennedy's reaction and the threats of general busi- 
ness harassment by government that followed the 'affront.'" 35 

Thus the steel crisis, in Fortune's view, threatened to propel an activist, 

anti-business president toward a fate like that of Julius Caesar. As Shake- 
speare had it, Caesar was warned of his coming assassination by a sooth- 
sayer: "Beware the ides of March." Fortune gave Kennedy a deadly warning 
of its own by the title of its editorial: "Steel: The Ides of April." 

Robert Kennedy's Justice Department continued its anti-trust investiga- 
tion into the steel companies. U.S. Steel and seven other companies were 
eventually forced to pay maximum fines in 1965 for their price-fixing activ- 
ities between 1955 and 196 1. 36 The steel crisis defined John and Robert 
Kennedy as Wall Street enemies. The president was seen as a state dictator. 
As the Wall Street Journal put it in the week after Big Steel surrendered to 
the Kennedys, "The Government set the price. And it did this by the pressure 
of fear — by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police." 37 
U.S. News and World Report gave prominence in its April 30, 1962, issue 
to an anti-Kennedy article on "Planned Economy" that suggested the presi- 
dent was acting like a Soviet commissar. 38 

Attorney General Robert Kennedy became a symbol of "ruthless power" 

to the business titans he treated so brusquely, whose corporations he then 

found in violation of the law. Media controlled by the same interests adopted 
the characterization of RFK as ruthless until his murder six years later. 

As John Kennedy became persona non grata to the economic elite of the 
United States, his popularity increased elsewhere. He said on May 8, 1962, 
to a warmly welcoming convention of the United Auto Workers: 

"Last week, after speaking to the Chamber of Commerce and the presi- 
dents of the American Medical Association, I began to wonder how I got 
elected. And now I remember. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

"I said last week to the Chamber that I thought I was the second choice 
for President of a majority of the Chamber; anyone else was first choice." 39 

John Kennedy, the son of a rich man who had fought Wall Street in the 
Roosevelt administration, was beginning to sound like a class heretic himself. 
He told the U.A.W.: "Harry Truman once said there are 14 or 15 million 
Americans who have the resources to have representatives in Washington to 
protect their interests, and that the interests of the great mass of other peo- 
ple, the hundred and fifty or sixty million, is the responsibility of the Presi- 
dent of the United States. And I propose to fulfill it." 40 

After the steel crisis, President Kennedy felt so much hostility from the 
leaders of big business that he finally gave up trying to curry their support. 
He told advisers Sorensen, O'Donnell, and Schlesinger, "I understand better 
every day why Roosevelt, who started out such a mild fellow, ended up so 
ferociously anti-business. It is hard as hell to be friendly with people who 
keep trying to cut your legs off." 41 If Fortune's editors were right in seeing a 
deliberate provocation of Kennedy, the instigators had succeeded in alienat- 
ing the business elite from the president, and vice versa. 

JFK joked about what his corporate enemies would do to him, if they only 
had the chance. A year after the steel crisis, he learned before giving a speech 
in New York that elsewhere in the same hotel "the steel industry was pre- 
senting Dwight D. Eisenhower with its annual public service award." 

"I was their man of the year last year," said the president to his audience. 
"They wanted to come down to the White House to give me their award, but 
the Secret Service wouldn't let them do it." 42 

For the dark humor to work, Kennedy and his audience had to assume a 
Secret Service committed to shielding the president. However, as Secret Serv- 
ice agent Abraham Bolden had learned before he left the White House detail, 
the S.S. agents around Kennedy were joking in a more sinister direction 
that they would step out of the way if an assassin aimed a shot at the presi- 
dent. 43 In Dallas the Secret Service would step out of the way not just 
individually but collectively. 

n his deepening alienation from the CIA, the Pentagon, and big business, 
John Kennedy was moving consciously beyond the point of no return. 
Kennedy knew well the complicity that existed among the Cold War's cor- 
porate elite, Pentagon planners, and the heads of "intelligence agencies." He 
was no stranger to the way systemic power worked in and behind his 
national security state. But he still kept acting for "the interests of the great 
mass of other people" — and as his brother Robert put it, to prevent "the 
specter of the death of the children of this country and around the world." 
That put him more and more deeply in conflict with those who controlled the 

We have no evidence as to who in the military-industrial complex may 
have given the order to assassinate President Kennedy. That the order was 

Marked Out for Assassination 


carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency is obvious. The CIA's finger- 
prints are all over the crime and the events leading up to it. 

According to the Warren Report, Lee Harvey Oswald told the U.S. 
Embassy in Moscow on October 31, 1959, that his new allegiance was to the 
U.S.S.R. He said he had promised Soviet officials he "would make known to 
them all information concerning the Marine Corps and his specialty therein, 
radar operation, as he possessed." 44 However, the Warren Report did not 
mention that in the Marine Corps Oswald had been a radar operator specifi- 
cally for the CIA's top-secret U-2 spy plane. By not admitting Oswald's U-2 
or CIA connections, the Warren Commission avoided the implications of his 
offering to give "something of special interest" to the Soviets. 45 Oswald was 
either a blatant traitor or, as his further history reveals, a U.S. counter- 
intelligence agent being dangled before the Russians as a Marine expatriate. 

The head of the CIA's Counterintelligence Branch from 1954 to 1974 was 
James Jesus Angleton, known as the "Poet-Spy." As an undergraduate at 
Yale in the early forties, Angleton had founded a literary journal, Furioso, 
which published the poetry of Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, and Archibald 
MacLeish. After he went on to Harvard Law School, Angleton was drafted 
into the U.S. Army. He became a member of the Counterintelligence Branch 
of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), World War II predecessor to the 
CIA. The OSS and CIA suited Angleton perfectly. Counterintelligence became 
less a wartime mission than a lifelong obsession. For Angleton, the Cold War 
was an anti-communist crusade, with his CIA double agents engaged in a 
battle of light against darkness. 

Investigative journalist Joseph Trento testified in a 1984 court deposition 
that, according to CIA sources, James Angleton was the supervisor of a CIA 

assassination unit in the 1950s. The "small assassination team" was headed 
by Army colonel Boris Pash. 46 At the end of World War II, Army Intelligence 
colonel Pash had rounded up Nazi scientists who could contribute their 
research skills to the development of U.S. nuclear and chemical weapons. 47 
The CIA's E. Howard Hunt, while imprisoned for the Watergate break-in, 
told the New York Times that Pash's CIA assassination unit was designed 
especially for the killing of suspected double agents. 48 That placed Pash's ter- 
minators under the authority of counterintelligence chief Angleton. Joseph 
Trento testified that his sources confirmed, "Pash's assassination unit was 
assigned to Angleton." 49 

In the 1960s, Angleton retained his authority over assassinations. In 
November 1961, the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans, Richard Bissell, directed 
his longtime associate William Harvey to develop an assassination program 
known as "ZR/RIFLE" and to apply it to Cuba, as the Senate's Church Com- 
mittee later discovered. 50 Among the notes for ZR/RIFLE that Harvey then 
scribbled to himself were: "planning should include provisions for blaming 
Sovs or Czechs in case of blow. Should have phony 201 [a CIA file on any 
person "of active operational interest"] 51 in RG [Central Registry] to back- 
stop this, all documents therein forged and backdated." 52 In other words, in 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

order to blame an assassination on the Communists, the patsy should be 
given Soviet or Czechoslovakian associations. (Oswald's would be Soviet 
and Cuban.) An appropriately fraudulent CIA 201 personnel file should be 
created for any future assassination scapegoat, with "all documents therein 
forged and updated." Harvey also reminded himself that the phony 201 
"should look like a CE [counterespionage] file," and that he needed to talk 
with "Jim A." 53 

William Harvey headed Staff D, a top-secret CIA department that was 
responsible for communications intercepts received from the National Secu- 
rity Agency. Assassinations prepared by Harvey were therefore given the 
same ultimate degree of secrecy as the NSA's intercepts, under the higher 

jurisdiction of James Angleton. Any access to Staff D could be granted only 
by "Angleton's men," according to CIA agent Joseph B. Smith. 54 

As we shall see in the Oswald project under Angleton's supervision, the 
CIA's Counterintelligence head blended the powers of assassination and dis- 
information. Deception was Angleton's paradoxical way toward a victory 
of the light. In the war against Communism, Angleton thrived on deceiving 
enemies and friends alike in a milieu he liked to call "the wilderness of mir- 
rors." His friend e. e. cummings suggested the contradictions in James Angle- 
ton in a letter he wrote to Angleton's wife: "What a miracle of momentous 
complexity is the Poet." 55 

In the mid 1970s, the Senate's Church Committee on intelligence and the 
House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) opened the CIA's lid on 
Lee Harvey Oswald and discovered James Jesus Angleton. They found that 
Angleton's Special Investigations Group (SIG) in CIA Counterintelligence 
held a 201 file on Oswald in the three years prior to JFK's assassination. 
Considering what William Harvey wrote about creating phony 201 files for 
ZR/RIFLE scapegoats, an obvious first question is: How genuine is Oswald's 
file (or what little we have been given from it)? In any case, judging from the 
interview of a key witness about Oswald's file in Angleton's SIG office, its 
mere presence in that particular location was enough to give the game away. 

It was Angleton's staff member, Ann Egerter, who opened Oswald's 201 
SIG file on December 9, I960. 56 Egerter was questioned by the House Select 
Committee. They knew they could not expect her, as a CIA employee, to 
answer truthfully, even under oath, the question whether Oswald was a CIA 

agent. Allen Dulles, Kennedy's fired CIA director, had said in the January 
27, 1964, closed-door Warren Commission meeting that no CIA employee, 
even under oath, should ever say truthfully if Oswald (or anyone else) was 
in fact a CIA agent. 57 The House Select Committee therefore had to get the 
answer from Angleton's associate, Ann Egerter — by then retired and some- 
what obliging — by indirect questioning. 

When Egerter was asked the purpose of Counterintelligence's Special 
Investigations Group (CI/SIG), she said, "We were charged with the investi- 
gation of Agency personnel who were suspected one way or another." 5 * 

Egerter had thereby already made a crucial admission, whose implications 

Marked Out for Assassination 


would be drawn out step by step. Her HSCA interviewer then asked Egerter 
to confirm this specific purpose of SIG: "Please correct me if I am wrong. In 
light of the example that you have given and the statements that you have 
made it seems that the purpose of CI/SIG was very limited and that limited 
purpose was being [sic] to investigate Agency employees who for some rea- 
son were under suspicion" 

Egerter replied, "That is correct." 59 

She was then asked: "When a 201 file is opened does that mean that who- 
ever opens the file has either an intelligence interest in the individual, or, if 
not an intelligence interest, he thinks that the individual may present a coun- 
terintelligence risk?" 

Egerter: "Well, in general, I would say that would be correct." 
Interviewer: "Would there be any other reason for opening up a file?" 
Egerter: "No, I can't think of one." 60 

Researcher Lisa Pease concluded from Ann Egerter's testimony that 
Oswald's 201 file in CI/SIG "implies strongly that either Oswald was indeed 
a member of the CIA or was being used in an operation involving members 
of the CIA, which for my money is essentially the same thing." 61 In either 
case, Oswald was a CIA asset. 

Egerter also indicated by her testimony that Oswald was a particular kind 
of CIA asset, an Agency employee who was suspected of being a security 
risk. That would have been the reason for opening a 201 file on him specifi- 
cally in Angleton's Special Investigations Group of Counterintelligence. 
Egerter said SIG was known in the Agency as "the office that spied on 
spies," 62 and repeatedly identified the spies being spied upon as CIA employ- 
ees. She again described the work of her SIG office as "investigations of 
Agency employees where there was an indication of espionage." 63 

Her interviewer in turn patiently sought reconfirmation of this stated pur- 
pose of her office that so strongly implied Oswald was a CIA employee under 
investigation by the Agency: 

Interviewer: "I hope you understand my questions are directed toward 
trying to find out what the purpose of the CI/SIG Office was and under 
what circumstances was the opening up of the 201 file [on Oswald]. I am 
given the impression that the purpose of CI/SIG was very limited, prima- 
rily to investigate Agency employees who for one reason or another might 
be under suspicion of getting espionage against the United States. Is that 
an accurate statement of the purpose of CI/SIG?" 

Egerter: "Well, it is employees and also penetration, which is the same 
thing, of the Agency." 64 

Ann Egerter's testimony points toward Oswald having been a CIA 
employee who by December 1960 had come under suspicion by the Agency. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

He was to be carefully watched. As a security risk, he was also the ideal kind 
of person for the CIA to offer up three years later as a scapegoat in the assas- 
sination of a president who some believed had become a much greater secu- 
rity risk. 

Former CIA finance officer Jim Wilcott confirmed the implications of 
Egerter's deposition. In his own HSCA testimony, Wilcott said Oswald served 
the CIA specifically as a double agent in the Soviet Union who afterwards 
came under suspicion by the Agency. 

Jim Wilcott's straightforward testimony on Oswald was made possible by 
his and his wife's courageous decision to divorce themselves from the CIA 
and speak the truth. After nine years working for the CIA as a husband-and- 
wife team, Jim and Elsie Wilcott resigned from the Agency in 1966. "My 
wife and I both left the CIA," Wilcott testified before the House Select Com- 
mittee, "because we became convinced that what CIA was doing couldn't 
be reconciled to basic principles of democracy or basic principles of human- 
ism." 65 In 1968 as participants in the anti- Vietnam War and civil rights 
movements, Jim and Elsie Wilcott became the first former CIA couple to go 
public with what they knew, in spite of the risks to themselves. They made 
the decision in conscience to speak out, they said, in order "to sleep better 
nights." 66 Thus their marriage became a CIA profile in courage. 

Jim Wilcott worked in the finance branch of the Tokyo CIA Station from 
1960 to 1964. During the same years, Elsie Wilcott was a secretary at the 
Tokyo station. When President Kennedy was assassinated, the station went 
on alert. Jim was assigned to twenty-four-hour security duty. He passed the 
time with agents whose tongues had been loosened by alcohol. They told 
him the CIA was involved in the assassination. 67 

"At first I thought 'These guys are nuts,'" he said, "but then a man I knew 
and had worked with before showed up to take a disbursement and told me 
Lee Harvey Oswald was a CIA employee. I didn't believe him until he told 
me the cryptonym under which Oswald had drawn funds when he returned 
from Russia to the U.S." 68 

The man at the disbursing cage window who revealed the Oswald con- 
nection was, Wilcott said, a case officer who supervised agents. 69 The case 
officer said Wilcott himself had issued an advance on funds for the CIA's 
Oswald project under the cryptonym. "It was a cryptonym," Wilcott told the 
House Committee, "that I was familiar with. It must have been at least two 
or three times that I had remembered it, and it did ring a bell." 70 In recog- 
nizing the cryptonym, Wilcott had to confront his own complicity in the 
CIA's Oswald counterintelligence project that was the background to the 
president's assassination. 

In a 1978 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim Wilcott said, 
"It was common knowledge in the Tokyo CIA station that Oswald worked 
for the agency. " 

"That's true," Elsie Wilcott said. "Right after the President was killed, 
people in the Tokyo station were talking openly about Oswald having gone 

Marked Out for Assassination 


to Russia for the CIA. Everyone was wondering how the agency was going 
to be able to keep the lid on Oswald. But I guess they did," she said. 71 

In an article based on what he learned at the Tokyo Station, Jim Wilcott 
wrote: "[Oswald] had been trained [by the CIA] at Atsugi Naval Air Sta- 
tion, a plush super secret cover base for Tokyo Station special operations . . . 

"Oswald was recruited from the military for the express purpose of 
becoming a double agent assignment to the USSR . . . More than once, I was 
told something like 'so-and-so was working on the Oswald project back in 
the late '50s.' 

"One of the reasons given for the necessity to do away with Oswald was 
the difficulty they had with him when he returned. Apparently, he knew the 
Russians were on to him from the start, and this made him very angry." 72 

Oswald's anger, while he was trying to arrange his return to the United 
States in late 1960, would have been reason enough for James Jesus Angle- 
ton to order his Special Investigations Group to keep a security watch on the 
CIA's double agent. Thus, Ann Egerter opened his 201 SIG file on December 
9, 1960. 

Jim and Elsie Wilcott paid a price for speaking out against the CIA. In 
the early 1970s after Jim became finance analyst for the Utica, California, 
community renewal program, the Utica mayor was informed by the FBI that 
the Wilcotts were under surveillance pending a possible federal indictment. 
The mayor decided not to fire Jim but asked him to sign a resignation form 
which the mayor would date the day previous to the date that the federal 
indictment came down. 73 The Wilcotts received threatening phone calls. They 
had intimidating notes left under their car's windshield wipers. Their tires 
were slashed. 74 On October 5, 1986, Elsie Wilcott died of cancer. 

In the decade following his HSCA testimony, Jim Wilcott joined Vietnam 
veteran Brian Willson and the Nuremberg Actions community outside the 
Concord Naval Weapons Station in nonviolent resistance to weapons ship- 
ments to the CIA-sponsored Contra war in Nicaragua. While sitting on the 
railroad tracks, Willson was run over by a weapons train, which severed 
both his legs. Undeterred, Jim Wilcott was arrested for blocking a later 
train. 75 

In the late 1980s, a reporter for a small Bay Area journal described Jim 
Wilcott in his faithful vigil by the tracks of the Concord weapons train: "a 
gentle, unprepossessing person of indeterminate middle age" who had spent 
nine years as a CIA accountant. "Now disabled by an obscure nerve disor- 
der (whose rapid onset was accompanied by a small circle on his arm), he 
spent his time in humble supportive activities for Nuremberg Actions. It was 
his way of replying to what his old friends were fomenting south of the bor- 
der." 76 The reporter observed that at the protest site beside the tracks, along- 
side wooden crosses inscribed with the names of Central American martyrs, 
were large blocks of stone with epitaphs to John F. Kennedy and Robert F. 

Kennedy. Jim Wilcott soon joined the witnesses he remembered in his vigil 
by the tracks, dying of cancer on February 10, 1994. 77 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Because Jim and Elsie Wilcott were unswerving witnesses to the truth 
behind John Kennedy's assassination, we can see through their eyes how the 
unspeakable became possible. By having unwittingly funded the Oswald dou- 
ble agent project, Jim Wilcott was an example of how CIA people were being 
used piecemeal in compartmentalized Cold War plots. Like Lee Harvey 
Oswald, they had no "need to know" anything beyond their assigned tasks. 
Through the need-to-know restriction in their national security state, the 
majority of CIA employees were kept ignorant before the fact of the much 
larger covert designs they helped embroider by their actions. Thus, even the 
assassination of a president could be funded unconsciously by American tax- 
payers and carried out unknowingly by government employees, while only 
a few such as CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms and Counter- 
intelligence head James Angleton knew the intended result beforehand. 

n June 3, 1963, ignoring evidence that implicated itself, the CIA reported 
in Washington "the weight of evidence indicating that government 
cannon-fire caused the deaths in Hue" on May 8 that had ignited the Bud- 
dhist crisis in South Vietnam. 78 Ngo Dinh Diem, on the other hand, insisted 
the deaths "were due to a Viet Cong terrorist grenade." 79 However, as we 
have seen, neither the Saigon government nor the Viet Cong possessed the 
kind of powerful plastic explosives that decapitated the victims at Hue on 
May 8. It was only the CIA that had such an explosive, as admitted later by 
Captain Scott, the U.S. military adviser responsible for the bombing. 80 Gra- 
ham Greene had exposed earlier the CIA's preoccupation with plastic explo- 
sives. In The Quiet American, Greene dramatized the Agency's use of plastic 
bombs in Saigon in 1952 to scapegoat the Viet Minh as terrorists. The pat- 
tern was repeated in Hue, with Diem the propaganda target. The CIA's June 
3 report blamed Diem for the Hue fatalities, which had in fact polarized him 
and the Buddhists, discredited his government, and derailed a possible 
Kennedy-Diem alliance for a negotiated U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. Both 
Kennedy and Diem had been outmaneuvered by the CIA. 

On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Due, burned himself 
to death in Saigon in protest to Diem's repressive policies. Reporter Mal- 
colm Browne's wire service photo of the bonze's self-immolation shocked 
the world. When John Kennedy opened his June 12 newspaper and saw the 
picture of the burning monk, he exclaimed, "Jesus Christ!" to his brother 
Robert on the phone. 81 Secretary of State Dean Rusk had already cabled the 
U.S. Embassy in Saigon: "In our judgment the Buddhist situation is danger- 
ously near the breaking point. Accordingly, you are authorized to tell Diem 
that in the United States view it is essential for the GVN [Government of 
Vietnam] promptly to take dramatic action to regain confidence of Buddhists 
and that the GVN must fully and unequivocally meet Buddhist demands . . . 

"If Diem does not take prompt and effective steps to reestablish Buddhist 
confidence in him we will have to reexamine our entire relationship with his 

55 89 

regime. 8Z 

Marked Out for Assassination 


Kennedy's advisers were running ahead of him. Rusk's instructions to the 
Saigon Embassy led Acting Ambassador William Trueheart to convey an ulti- 
matum to Diem on June 12 that the president had not authorized. JFK found 
out by reading a CIA Intelligence Checklist on June 14. A White House mem- 
orandum that day emphasized: "The President noticed that Diem has been 
threatened with a formal statement of disassociation. He wants to be 
absolutely sure that no further threats are made and no formal statement is 
made without his own personal authorization." 83 

Vietnam was spiraling out of Kennedy's control. So was a crisis in Ala- 
bama. On June 1 1 , Governor George Wallace placed himself in the door- 
way of the University of Alabama to keep two black students from 
registering. Working closely with his brother in the Attorney General's office, 
the president federalized the Alabama National Guard in the same hour to 
move Wallace aside and register the students. He decided to address the 
nation that night on the moral and civic crisis it was facing at home, as dram- 
atized by Wallace. 

At the same time, Kennedy had j ust turned a corner in his East-West strug- 
gle with Nikita Khrushchev. The day before, JFK had delivered his American 
University address, calling for an end to the Cold War, inspiring Khrushchev 
to hail his words as "the greatest speech by any American President since 
Roosevelt." 84 The Soviet leader agreed quickly with Kennedy to a test ban 
treaty, to the dismay of the military-industrial complex. U.S. News and 
World Report would ask in a major article, "Is U.S. Giving Up in the Arms 
Race?," citing military authorities' fears that Kennedy's new strategy added 
up to "a type of intentional and one-sided disarmament." 

On the night of June 1 1 , as Kennedy continued to ponder Vietnam and to 
absorb in particular the flaming image of Thich Quang Due, he gave his tel- 
evised speech to the American people on civil rights, saying it was "a moral 
issue," "as old as the scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution." 85 
Four hours later, as if in response to his speech, a hidden assassin shot 
N A ACP leader Medgar Evers in the back as he approached his home in Jack- 
son, Mississippi, causing Evers to bleed to death in front of his wife and chil- 
dren. 86 

In two critical days, John Kennedy's words had inspired millions of peo- 
ple on opposite sides of the globe, some to act profoundly for peace and jus- 
tice, others to hate and to kill. By those words and his decisions implementing 
them, he had become simultaneously a catalyst of hope and a target of hate. 

FK's friend John Kenneth Galbraith, his ambassador to India, said in a 
reflection published the day of the president's funeral that none of 
Kennedy's advisers could keep up with the man's own understanding: 

"What Mr. Kennedy had come to know about the art and substance of 
American Government was prodigious . . . My Harvard colleague Professor 
Carl Kaysen, who has worked in the White House these last years, has said 
that when asked who is the most knowledgeable of the President's advisers 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

he always felt obliged to remind his questioner that none was half so well- 
informed as the President himself. 

"Departments and individuals, in approaching the President, invariably 
emphasized the matters which impress them most. Mr. Kennedy knew how 
to make the appropriate discounts without anyone quite realizing they were 
being made. He had a natural sense for all of the variables in a problem; he 
would not be carried away by anyone." 87 

Galbraith said, "No one knew the President well." 88 

That was especially true of his advisers. Their thinking on Vietnam ran 
counter to his own widening strategy for peace, as stated in his American 
University address. It was a relative outsider, Senator Mike Mansfield, who 
convinced him to withdraw from Vietnam, a decision consistent with JFK's 
unfolding vision of peace. Yet Kennedy was perplexed at how to manage a 
military withdrawal that was against the direction of his Cold War govern- 
ment. A prospective withdrawal now lay also in the context of the Buddhist 
crisis, which had prompted an international revulsion at the repressive rule 
of South Vietnamese President Diem. 

It was at this point that Kennedy made a crucial mistake on Vietnam. 

His ambassador to the Saigon government, Frederick Nolting, had asked 
to be relieved. Kennedy's first choice to become the new ambassador was his 
friend, Edmund Gullion, 89 who as a consul in Saigon in 1951 had told him 
it would be a disaster for the U.S. to follow the French example in Vietnam. 
Gullion had already served the president as his ambassador to the Congo, 
which for a while was the hottest spot in the Cold War. 

In his book JFK: Ordeal in Africa, Richard Mahoney noted that Kennedy 
considered Gullion his most trusted third world ambassador. He sent Gullion 
into the Congo in 1961 because that African nation had become "a testing 
ground of the views shared by Kennedy and Gullion on the purpose of Amer- 
ican power in the Third World. As Kennedy remarked over the phone one 
day, if the U.S. could support the process of change — 'allow each country to 
find its own way' — it could prevent the spread of the Cold War and improve 
its own security." 90 

In the Congo, Gullion also represented Kennedy's support of a UN pol- 
icy forged by the late Dag Hammarskjold. Kennedy and Gullion promoted 
Hammarskjold's vision of a united, independent Congo, to the dismay of 
multinational corporations working ceaselessly to carve up the country and 
control its rich resources. 91 After Kennedy's death, the corporations would 
succeed in controlling the Congo with the complicity of local kingpins. While 
JFK was alive, a Kennedy-Hammarskjold-UN vision kept the Congo together 

and independent. 

Seventeen years after JFK's death, Gullion said, "Kennedy, I think, risked 
a great deal in backing this operation [of UN forces in the Congo], backing 
this whole thing." 92 The risk came from within his own government. 

Kennedy rejected his State Department's and Joint Chiefs' proposals for 
"direct U.S. military intervention in the Congo in September 1961 and 

Marked Out for Assassination 


December 1962. " 93 Kennedy had again feared he was being entrapped by 
his advisers, as in the Bay of Pigs, Laos, and Vietnam, in an ever-deepening 
U.S. military involvement. His Congo policy was also being subverted by the 
CIA, which had been arming the Congo's secessionist regime in Katanga in 
order to promote Belgian mining interests. "This [CIA] practice," wrote 
Richard Mahoney, "was expressly contrary to U.S. policy and in direct vio- 
lation of the UN Security Council resolutions." 94 Kennedy's policy, carried 
out by Gullion, was to support the UN peacekeeping operation. The presi- 
dent often quoted the statement his UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson made 
to the Security Council, that the only way to keep the Cold War out of the 
Congo was to keep the UN in the Congo. 95 But the CIA wanted the Cold War 
in the Congo. 

In the summer of 1963, Edmund Gullion's anticolonial diplomacy, as prac- 
ticed already in the Congo, held the promise — or threat to some — of open- 
ing new doors to Kennedy in Vietnam. However, Secretary of State Dean 
Rusk told the president he was opposed to Gullion as the new Saigon ambas- 
sador. 96 In a decision JFK would live to regret, he then went along with 
Rusk's veto of Gullion and chose instead as ambassador his old Republican 
rival from Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge. Kennedy wound up agreeing 
with Rusk's view that to choose a distinguished Republican as his ambassa- 
dor would take the air out of the Republican right's demands for an escalated 
war. 97 But in forgoing Gullion, whose views were in harmony with his own, 
for the Republican Lodge, the president was not only giving up the appoint- 
ment of a trusted colleague but also surrendering power to a political enemy. 

In 1952 Kennedy had been elected to the Senate over the heavily favored 
incumbent senator, Henry Cabot Lodge. From 1953 to 1960, Lodge served 
the Eisenhower administration as UN ambassador, squashing UN opposi- 
tion to CIA coups carried out in Iran and Guatemala under the direction of 
Allen Dulles. When JFK defeated Nixon for the presidency in 1960, Lodge 
as Nixon's vice-presidential candidate lost to Kennedy again. Lodge had then 
been hired by anti-Kennedy media magnate Henry Luce as his consultant on 
international affairs. 98 The struggle for power between the two dueling Mas- 
sachusetts dynasties, the Fitzgerald Kennedys and the Cabot Lodges, con- 
tinued. In 1962 Ted Kennedy, like JFK, began his Senate career by beating a 
Cabot Lodge. In that mid-term election of the Kennedy presidency, JFK's 
youngest brother defeated George Cabot Lodge, Henry Cabot Lodge's thirty- 
five-year-old son. 99 

For a decade, Henry Cabot Lodge (and his son) had been trying unsuc- 
cessfully to beat John Kennedy (and his brother) in an election. Lodge was 
no Kennedy man. Yet he had taken the curious step in 1963 of letting it be 
known in Washington that he would like to become the president's Saigon 
ambassador. Why did Lodge offer to become the ambassador of a man he so 
often opposed? 

Henry Cabot Lodge was a major general in the U.S. Army Reserves. He 
had spent a month at the Pentagon in January 1963 being briefed on Viet- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

nam and counterinsurgency. Author Anne Blair, who was given access to 
Lodge's private papers for her book Lodge in Vietnam, determined that it 
was probably during his Pentagon tour of duty "that Lodge began to float 
his name as a possibility for Vietnam." 100 Blair concluded from her reading 
of Lodge's confidential journal that he wanted to use a Vietnam appoint- 
ment as the basis for a late run for the presidency in 1964. 101 Several of 
Lodge's close associates in South Vietnam, including his special assistant, 
John Michael Dunn, confirmed to Blair that Lodge "had accepted the South 
Vietnam post to increase his chances of gaining the Republican nomination." 
Henry Cabot Lodge wanted to represent his longtime opponent, John 
Kennedy, in Vietnam in such a way that he would be able to replace him in 
the White House. 

Robert Kennedy warned his brother that he was making a mistake in 
appointing Lodge. He said Lodge would cause the president "a lot of diffi- 
culty in six months." 102 Even RFK was being too optimistic about Lodge. 
JFK's difficulties with his new ambassador would begin almost as soon as 
Lodge arrived in Vietnam. 

With a sense of having just added one more shark to those already swim- 
ming around him, Kennedy joked to his aides Kenny O'Donnell and Dave 
Powers about his own motives for the appointment: "The idea of getting 
Lodge mixed up in such a hopeless mess as the one in Vietnam was irre- 
sistible." 103 Kennedy had in fact taken a magnanimous risk in appointing his 
political adversary to an influential post. Lodge would not return the favor 
by obeying the president's orders. Kennedy had made a mistake that would 
dog him that fall in Vietnam. By appointing Henry Cabot Lodge as his 
ambassador rather than holding out against Rusk for Edmund Gullion, 
Kennedy had lost a critical degree of power over Vietnam. Once Lodge took 
up residence in Saigon in August, it would not be Kennedy but his old polit- 
ical enemy, Lodge, who would be in control of the situation on the ground. 


e saw earlier how Lee Harvey Oswald was continually impersonated in 
Mexico City in September 1963. Oswald disappeared down a black 
hole. His CIA-alleged visits and phone calls to the Cuban and Soviet con- 
sulates ended up revealing more about the CIA than they ever did about 
Oswald. In preparation for his patsy role in Dallas, Oswald was being given 
a false identity in Mexico City as a communist conspirator by an unknown 
impersonator. CIA transcripts of fraudulent Oswald phone calls to the Soviet 
Consulate "documented" the future scapegoat's supposed communications 
with a Soviet assassination expert. As William Harvey had written in his 
notes for the ZR/RIFLE assassination program, "planning should include 
provisions for blaming Sovs . . ." 104 The Mexico City scenario highlighted the 
CIA's plan to blame the Soviets and the Cubans for the president's murder. 
However, the Soviets had discovered the plot to kill the president and 
knew the CIA planned to implicate them. 

Marked Out for Assassination 


As we learned from the confrontation of U.S. and Soviet tanks at the 
Berlin Wall, Nikita Khrushchev and his advisers sometimes knew more about 
U.S. military operations than did their commander in chief in the White 
House, John Kennedy. The same was true in the case of the conspiracy to kill 
Kennedy, being carried out unknown to the president by his own Central 
Intelligence Agency — but not unknown to Soviet agents. JFK's opponents in 
the Kremlin were not only secretly monitoring the CIA's preparations to kill 
Kennedy. They were also trying to disrupt the plot, save the life of a presi- 
dent they knew they could work with, and keep from being scapegoated for 
his murder. 

One of the most exhaustively researched books on President Kennedy's 
assassination, Dick Russell's The Man Who Knew Too Much, tells the story 
of a U.S. counterintelligence agent hired by the Soviets to kill Lee Harvey 
Oswald and thereby prevent JFK's assassination. The double agent's reluc- 
tance to become either Oswald's assassin for the KGB, or a part of JFK's 
assassination for the CIA, moved him to a desperate act. 

Richard Case Nagell, "the man who knew too much," walked into a bank 
in El Paso, Texas, on September 20, 1963, and calmly fired two shots from 
a Colt .45 pistol into a plaster wall just below the bank's ceiling. He then 
went outside and waited in his car until a police officer came to arrest him. 
When questioned by the FBI, Nagell made only one statement: "I would 
rather be arrested than commit murder and treason." 105 

Richard Case Nagell had been a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer 
from 1955 to 1959. He was assigned to Field Operations Intelligence (FOI), 
which he later described as "a covert extension of CIA policy and activity 
designed to conceal the true nature of CIA objectives." 106 During his FOI 
orientation at Far East Headquarters in Japan, Nagell was familiarized, he 
said, with "simple and intricate weapons to be used in assassinations." He 
was also "advised that in the event I was apprehended, killed or compro- 
mised during the performance of my illegal FOI duties, the Department of the 
Army would publicly disclaim any knowledge of or connection with such 
duties, exercising its right of plausible denial." 107 

In the late fifties while stationed in Japan, Nagell began his Army/CIA 
role as a double agent in liaison with Soviet intelligence. In Tokyo, Nagell's 
path converged with that of counterintelligence agent Lee Harvey Oswald. 
Both men worked in a counterintelligence operation with the code name 
"Hidell," which Oswald later used as part of his alias, "Alek James Hidell." 
Nagell's biographer Dick Russell believes it was Nagell who actually assigned 
the "Hidell" alias to Oswald. 108 

As a continuing double agent in 1963, Nagell was working with Soviet 
intelligence in Mexico City. He was reporting back to the CIA, in an opera- 
tion directed by the chief of the CIA's Cuban Task Force, Desmond Fitz- 
Gerald. Assigned by the KGB to monitor Lee Harvey Oswald in the United 
States after Oswald returned from Russia, Nagell became involved in New 
Orleans and Texas with Oswald and two Cuban exiles in what he saw was 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

a "large" operation to kill JFK. 109 The Cubans were known by their "war 
names" of "Angel" and "Leopoldo." Nagell told Dick Russell that Angel 
and Leopoldo "were connected with a violence-prone faction of a CIA- 
financed group operating in Mexico City and elsewhere." 110 He identified 
Angel's and Leopoldo's CIA-financed group as Alpha 66. H1 

Alpha 66 was the group of Cuban exile paramilitaries we have already 
encountered who were directed by David Atlee Phillips, Chief of Covert 
Action at the CIA's Mexico City Station. In early 1963, Phillips deployed 
Alpha 66 in attacks on Russian ships in Cuban ports. The purpose of the 
provocative raids was to draw JFK into a war with Cuba. Kennedy 
responded by ordering a government crackdown on the CIA-sponsored raids, 
further antagonizing both the CIA and the exile community. Alpha 66 had 
ignited not a U.S. war with Cuba but a more lethal hatred of the president. 
This was the CIA-funded group Richard Case Nagell said Angel and 
Leopoldo belonged to, while they were meeting with Oswald. 

In September 1963, Nagell was ordered by the KGB to convince Oswald 
that he was being set up by Angel and Leopoldo as the assassination patsy 
or if that failed, to murder Oswald in Mexico City and then take up residence 
abroad. The Soviets wanted to save Kennedy by eliminating the scenario's 
patsy, and to keep from becoming scapegoats themselves. As Nagell told 
Dick Russell, "If anybody wanted to stop the assassination, it would be the 
KGB. But they didn't do enough." 112 

Nagell met with Oswald in New Orleans. He warned Oswald that 
Leopoldo and Angel were manipulating him. Oswald was evasive and unre- 
sponsive to Nagell's appeals that he quit the assassination plot. 113 

By that time Nagell had lost contact with his CIA case worker under 
Desmond FitzGerald. Rather than carry out the KGB's orders to kill Oswald, 
he sent the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover a registered letter on September 17 warn- 
ing of the president's impending assassination, spelling out what Nagell knew 
of it. As he described the letter years later, "I informed the Director of the 
Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others [in his communications with the 
CIA], as early as September 17, 1963, that Lee Harvey Oswald and two of 
his Cuban associates were planning to assassinate the President of the United 
States." 114 Nagell also said that his letter to the FBI made explicit he "had 
received instructions 'to take care of Lee Oswald, that is, to kill him, in Sep- 
tember 1963. " 115 

It is noteworthy that Nagell's letter to Hoover specified that the attempt 
to kill Kennedy would take place around the latter part of September, "prob- 
ably on the 26 th , 27 th , 28 th , or 29 th ," 116 and that the location would be in 
Washington, D.C. 117 From his mid-September knowledge of the assassination 
plot, Nagell thought Kennedy would be killed in Washington, at a time 
almost two months before his actual murder in Dallas. 

Two weeks before Nagell's letter to Hoover, Oswald was already prepar- 
ing to follow a similar time line and itinerary. On September 1, 1963, Oswald 
wrote to the Communist Party in New York City: "Please advise me as to 

Marked Out for Assassination 


how I can contact the Party in the Baltimore-Washington area, to which I 
shall relocate in October." 118 

Also on September 1, Oswald wrote to the Socialist Workers Party in New 
York: "Please advise me as to how I can get into direct contact with S.W.P. 
representatives in the Washington D.C. -Baltimore area. I and my family are 
moving to that area in October." 119 

Nagell's and Oswald's pre-assassination letters were focused on the same 
area, Washington, D.C, and had roughly the same time frame — "probably" 
September 26-29 in Nagell's assassination prediction, and "October" in 
Oswald's anticipated move to "the Washington D.C. -Baltimore area." But 
their letters were at cross purposes. Oswald, in his letter to the Communist 
and Socialist Workers parties, was obediently laying down a paper trail that 
could, if necessary, be used later to incriminate him as a Communist assas- 
sin of Kennedy in D.C. Nagell, in his letter to Hoover, was blowing a whis- 
tle on the same plot. 

Having put his warning on record, Nagell then decided to remove himself 
from any possible role in the assassination plot. He therefore did his bank 
escapade in El Paso on September 20, 1963, to place himself in federal cus- 
tody rather "than commit murder and treason." He was convicted of armed 
robbery and served four and one-half years in prison. 

Nagell's shots in the El Paso bank gave his FBI letter a public exclamation 
point. Hoover knew that Nagell knew the CIA was planning to kill Kennedy 
in Washington around the end of the month (or in October — if, as likely, the 
FBI was also reading Oswald's correspondence to two closely monitored 
Communist offices). In a dramatic but oblique fashion, with his shots in El 
Paso, Nagell had made public his noncooperation with the plot to kill the 
president. Up to that point, Oswald had apparently been scheduled to be 
moved into position "in the Washington D.C. -Baltimore area" for the strike 
on JFK. Now Nagell, by his shots in the bank, had given the CIA and FBI 
public notice that, unlike Oswald, he refused to be a pawn in the plot. 
Although the whistle Nagell blew to Hoover did not save Kennedy's life, it 
may have been just loud enough with his bank caper to set back the plot two 

After Nagell was arrested in El Paso, Oswald was redirected to Dallas. In 
late October, Oswald wrote from Dallas to Arnold Johnson, information 

director of the Communist Party in New York City: "In September I had 

written you saying I expected to move from New Orleans, La., to the 

Philadelphia-Baltimore area . . . Since then my personal plans have changed 

and I have settled in Dallas, Texas for the time." 120 

The sheep-dipping of Oswald continued. To Johnson, Oswald noted he 
had attended an ACLU meeting in Dallas. He asked the communist's advice 
on how he "could attempt to highten [sic] its progressive tendencies," thereby 
associating himself with both the Communist Party and the ACLU. 

In 1967 as a federal prisoner in Springfield, Missouri, Richard Case Nag- 
ell contacted New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. For Garrison's 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

investigation of the Kennedy assassination, Nagell offered to turn over the 
tape recording he had made containing evidence of a conspiracy. Nagell said 
he had secretly taped a meeting he attended in late August 1963 with three 
other low-level participants in the plot to kill Kennedy. He identified the 
three voices on the tape beside his own as those of Oswald, Angel, and 
"Arcacha" — very likely Sergio Arcacha Smith, a Cuban exile leader who had 
worked closely with Guy Banister before moving from New Orleans to Texas 
in 1962. 121 Nagell withdrew the offer of the tape, however, when Garrison's 
staff member and intermediary, William R. Martin, told him he had been a 
CIA officer. Nagell suspected Martin's association with the CIA had not 
ended, as Garrison himself would later conclude. 122 

In the decades after his release from prison in 1968, Nagell allowed a few 
researchers such as Dick Russell and Bernard Fensterwald to interview him, 
without ever disclosing the most critical evidence he retained. Nagell was 
afraid of the consequences to his two children if he revealed anything more 
than he had already. 123 After talking with Nagell and investigating his story, 
Jim Garrison concluded: "Richard Case Nagell is the most important witness 
there is." 124 

How did Nagell manage to stay alive all these years? 

In 1990 he acknowledged that, after surviving three attempts on his life 
in the late sixties, 125 he made a deal: "Stay silent and get your benefits from 
the military." 126 It would turn out to be a shaky deal. The dealers would rec- 
ognize that Nagell's conscience was too active for him to remain silent. 

As a U.S. double agent in the fall of 1963, Nagell was stuck in an impos- 
sible Cold War dilemma. As a CIA counterintelligence agent, Nagell was act- 
ing out a role with the KGB in the United States and Mexico. But in his 
KGB-assigned task of watching Oswald, Nagell in turn infiltrated a CIA plot 
to kill Kennedy, one in which he was unwittingly becoming a participant 
alongside the patsy, Oswald. At that critical point his CIA case agent cut him 
off, leaving Nagell out in the cold to "commit murder and treason" by con- 
tinuing to take part in the assassination of the president. On the other hand, 
if Nagell followed his Soviet orders to kill CIA-pawn Oswald and block 
Kennedy's murder, he would also — this time from the CIA's in-house view- 
point — "commit murder and treason," against U.S. intelligence at the behest 
of the Soviet Union. 127 Nagell decided the safest place for him to ride out the 
dilemma was in jail. But before putting himself there, he tried to preempt 
the plot to kill Kennedy (and to put his effort on record) by sending his reg- 
istered letter to J. Edgar Hoover exposing the plot. The FBI would always 
claim, however, in denying it had any foreknowledge of the assassination, 
that it knew nothing of Nagell's letter. Nagell was again left out in the cold 
for the rest of his life. 

On October 31, 1995, the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) 
mailed Richard Case Nagell a letter seeking access to documents he claimed 
to have about a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. The ARRB had also 
decided to get a sworn deposition from Nagell. Thus a moment of truth was 

Marked Out for Assassination 


at hand. Dick Russell knew from remarks Nagell had made that "if an offi- 
cial government body ever took him seriously," as was now finally the case, 
"he would probably cooperate." 128 After three decades, the stage had at last 
been set for Nagell to tell his full story under oath, putting it on record before 
a government body authorized to review JFK evidence. 

On November 1, 1995, the day after the ARRB's letter was mailed from 
Washington, D.C., Richard Case Nagell was found dead in the bathroom of 
his Los Angeles house. 

The autopsy's conclusion was that he died from a heart attack. 129 How- 
ever, Nagell had told Russell in their last phone conversation the year before 
that he was in great health. The person to whom he was closest, his niece, 
confirmed that his health had improved considerably of late. He had no his- 
tory of heart problems. 130 

Yet something had happened to impair Nagell's health and equilibrium 
only a week and a half before his death. He had fallen badly and was hos- 
pitalized for a couple of days. Totally unlike himself, he phoned his niece to 
tell her about it, then began asking neighbors to check on him every day. 

His niece said, "There were indications of his either losing confidence in 
his health and stability — or being suspicious of something. One or the other 
had to be the case." 131 

Then he was found dead — of an apparent heart attack. 

Russell asked an investigator for the Los Angeles coroner, Gary Keller- 
man, if a heart attack could be induced. Kellerman said it was indeed possi- 
ble to kill in such a way, while leaving no clues: 

"I'm not sure what chemical you have to use, but I've heard of it. From 
what I understand, it's a chemical that gets into the system and then it's gone. 
You can't find it." 132 

Nagell had entrusted his niece with the knowledge of a purple trunk in 
which he had stored "what everybody is trying to get ahold of," as he put 
it — critical evidence, including his secretly recorded audiotape of his meeting 
with Oswald, Angel, and Arcacha. Robert Nagell, Richard's son, discovered 
in his father's house after his death the address of a Tucson, Arizona, stor- 
age unit. Robert drove immediately to the site, and retrieved the footlockers 
his father had stored there. They contained only family items. The purple 
trunk was missing. At the same time as Robert Nagell was racing to Tucson, 
his own house back in California was being broken into and ransacked. 133 

Even after his death, Richard Case Nagell's turn toward the truth seemed 
to threaten the security of the covert action agencies he had once served. 

To his friend and biographer Dick Russell, Nagell had once reflected in an 
offhand, despondent way on his failure to prevent the murder of John Kennedy: 

"I don't think much about it, to tell you the truth. Sometimes, though, I 
get thinking and I can't go to sleep. Thinking what I could have done, the 
mistakes that could have been handled differently ... I was in a quandary 
in September '63. 1 didn't know what to do . . . What did I accomplish? Not 
a goddamned thing." 134 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

As a CIA double agent working alongside Oswald, Nagell had been an 
active participant in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy. By his dramatic resist- 
ance to that evil, even though it persisted without him, Richard Case Nagell 
did accomplish something. He showed personally, in the depths of murder 
and deceit, that one can still turn toward the truth. And by his noncoopera- 
tion with evil, he may have accomplished one more thing. He may have set 
back the plot to assassinate the president just enough to give John F. Kennedy 
another two months in which to live. 

n the last week of September 1963, Silvia Odio, a twenty-six-year-old 
Cuban immigrant living in Dallas, was visited at her apartment door in the 
early evening by three strange men. Silvia's seventeen-year-old sister, Annie, 
who had come to babysit for Silvia's children, answered the door and spoke 
with the men first. They asked to see the oldest sister in the Odio family. 
Annie went to find Silvia, who was preparing to go out for the evening. Both 
Annie and Silvia had enduring impressions of the men, but Annie spoke with 
them for only a minute or two. Silvia talked with them for about twenty 

Two of the men looked Latin and spoke rapidly in Spanish. They acted as 
if they were Cuban exiles. The taller, more vocal man gave his "war name," 
or Cuban underground alias, as "Leopoldo." Silvia recalled the name of the 
shorter, stockier man with glasses as "Angelo" or "Angel." 135 The third man, 
their "gringo American" friend, said little. To Silvia he seemed unable to fol- 
low the Spanish. Yet the third man's silent presence for a few minutes at her 
door would traumatize her future. He was introduced to her as "Leon 
Oswald." She would later identify him in her Warren Commission testimony 

as the man charged in Dallas with the murder of President Kennedy. 136 (She 
had no knowledge of Richard Case Nagell's recent involvement with Oswald 
and two Cubans using the same war names of Leopoldo and Angelo or 

Leopoldo and Angel told Silvia they were members of JURE (Junta Rev- 
olucionaria Cubana), the anti-Castro group in which her parents were well 
known. The men claimed they were very good friends of her father, Amador 
Odio, then being held in a Cuban prison. They said they also knew JURE's 
leader, Manolo Ray, with whom her father had worked closely. The 
strangers' show of familiarity with her imprisoned father made Silvia uneasy. 

Amador Odio and his wife, Sarah, had been active in struggles against 
Cuban dictators since the thirties. 137 As the idealistic owner of Cuba's largest 
trucking company, Amador Odio was an important early ally of Fidel Cas- 
tro in the fight against the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Odio 
transported most of the arms and medical supplies to Castro's rebel army in 
the Sierra Maestra mountains. After Castro's triumph over Batista, Amador 
and Sarah began to see Fidel as a dictator himself. As Amador put it, they 
thought "Fidel betrayed the Revolution." 138 The Odios then took part in 

Marked Out for Assassination 


gun-running operations against the Cuban government. In October 1961 
they were arrested for storing arms on their land and harboring a man who 
tried to assassinate Castro. 139 They were imprisoned for eight years. The gov- 
ernment confiscated their estate outside Havana, making it into a women's 
prison. Sarah became an inmate in her former home. Amador was jailed on 
the Isle of Pines. Friends spirited their ten children out of the country. As the 
oldest at twenty-four, Silvia stepped into the shoes of her parents. 140 

By the fall of 1963, with her parents in jail in Cuba, two brothers in a 
Dallas orphanage, and the rest of the family scattered, Silvia Odio, divorced 
and with four children of her own, was struggling to keep both her family 
and her life together. The pressures sometimes overcame her. For a year she 
had fainting spells, passing out for hours at a time, and had seen a Dallas psy- 
chiatrist for help. 141 Carrying on the tradition of her parents, she had also 
become a JURE activist. She was working with their friend, Manolo Ray, at 
raising funds for JURE. That made her not only an opponent of Castro but, 
in a more immediate context, an outsider in the Dallas exile community and 
a problem to the CIA. Most anti-Castro activists and their CIA sponsors 
regarded JURE, with its platform in support of economic justice and agrar- 
ian reform, as "Fidelism without Fidel." For anti-Castro organizers, JURE's 
democratic socialism had too much in common with the enemy. 142 

CIA organizers of the Bay of Pigs invasion even suspected that JURE 

founder, Manolo Ray, Castro's recently resigned Minister of Public Works, 
was a Cuban agent — or at least a fellow traveler of Castro — in their midst. 

Bay of Pigs tactician Howard Hunt said, "Ray was the only [Cuban exile] 
leader concerning whose loyalties CIA remained unsure. The sequestration 
device [putting the exile leaders under house arrest at a CIA base during the 
invasion] was directed primarily at Ray, to ensure his not informing the 
enemy." 143 Ray was a critic of the CIA's role in the invasion before it hap- 
pened. The agency's later top-secret internal report on the Bay of Pigs com- 
mented acidly that Ray "who never favored an invasion said after the defeat 
'I told you so' to all available newspapers." 144 

Perhaps Ray's greatest liability in the eyes of the CIA was his favored- 
Cuban-activist status with John and Robert Kennedy. Ray's leftist convic- 
tions, which alienated him from the exile community and the CIA, were what 
moved the Kennedys to overrule the agency and insist on Ray's inclusion in 
the coalition of exile leaders. For as John Kennedy told French journalist 
Jean Daniel (to convey to Castro), the president agreed with the basic vision 
of the Cuban revolution 145 — the same position held by Manolo Ray, the Odio 
family, and JURE. 

The way Ray put it, in response to the charge of "Fidelism without Fidel," 
was: "I don't know what it means to be a leftist. If it means to be in favor of 
all the people and for the welfare of the masses, then I am." 146 Howard Hunt 
commented on this statement: "Fidel Castro could not have phrased it 
better." 147 

As cited in a CIA dispatch in July 1963, Ray's defensiveness among the 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

exiles for his being a Kennedy ally only made matters worse. He told a pre- 
sumably anti-Kennedy Cuban that he thought CIA agents "were more dan- 
gerous than the Kennedy administration." He waded into still deeper water 
by adding, "The Kennedy administration would end but CIA agents always 
stayed, and their memory was longer than the memory of elephants and they 


never forgot or forgave." 148 Further CIA cables noted that in September and 
October 1963, Ray was "conferring with Attorney General Kennedy about 
the Cuban situation," 149 at exactly the same time as the CIA knew John and 
Robert Kennedy were exploring a possible rapprochement with Fidel Castro. 

The CIA's tensions with Manolo Ray (suspected Castroite and confirmed 
Kennedy ally) and JURE ("Fidelism without Fidel") provided the backdrop 
to the visit to known JURE activist Silvia Odio by "JURE members" 
Leopoldo and Angel — and, most significantly, their friend Leon Oswald. The 
CIA saw Manolo Ray and JURE too closely related to a president who had 
become a national security risk. The encounter at Silvia Odio's door would 
link the man portrayed as Kennedy's assassin-to-be with a group the CIA 
wanted to contaminate. 

As Leopoldo and Angel introduced themselves, speaking warmly of 
Amador Odio, Silvia listened suspiciously. 

Leopoldo said, "We wanted you to meet this American. His name is Leon 
Oswald." In the course of the conversation, he repeated Oswald's name. He 
said Oswald was "very much interested in the Cuban cause." 150 

Silvia would remember the American vividly. He himself told her his name 
was Leon Oswald. As she would later recall the scene at her door, Oswald was 
standing between the two Cubans just inside the vestibule, less than three feet 
away from her. 151 While Leopoldo talked on quickly, Oswald just "kept smil- 
ing most of the time," with the bright overhead lights shining down on his 
face. "He had a special grin," she recalled, "a kind of funny smile." 152 

Leopoldo said they had just come directly from New Orleans. 153 The three 
men did appear "tired, unkempt and unshaven, as if they had just come from 
a long trip," Silvia recalled. 154 Leopoldo also said they were about to go on 
another trip. Silvia had the feeling she was being deliberately told about this 
unspecified trip. 155 The probable date of the men's visit at her door, Septem- 
ber 25, was the eve of Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City, when he or 
an imposter would implicate him with the Cuban and Soviet consulates. The 
three men's "trip" fit that scenario. 

Leopoldo said the purpose of their visiting Silvia was to ask her help in 
raising funds for JURE. Would she write for them some very nice letters in 
English as appeals to local businessmen? Silvia offered little comment, mak- 
ing no commitment. 

As the strained conversation ended, Leopoldo gave her the impression he 
would contact her again. From her window Silvia watched the two Cubans 
and their American friend get in a car and drive away. 

When Silvia got home from work a night or two later, she received a 
phone call from Leopoldo. 

Marked Out for Assassination 


He asked her, "What do you think of the American?" 

She said, "I don't think anything." 

Leopoldo said, "You know, our idea is to introduce him to the under- 
ground in Cuba because he is great, he is kind of nuts. He told us we don't 
have any guts, 'y° u Cubans,' because President Kennedy should have been 
assassinated after the Bay of Pigs, and some Cubans should have done that, 
because he was the one that was holding the freedom of Cuba actually." 156 

Silvia was getting upset with the conversation, but Leopoldo continued 
telling her what the American, "Leon Oswald," supposedly said. 

"And he said, 'It is so easy to do it.' He has told us." Leopoldo swore in 
Spanish, emphasizing Oswald's point about how easy it was to kill Kennedy. 
Leopoldo added that the American had been a Marine and was an expert 
shot. He was "kind of loco." 157 

Leopoldo repeated what he had said at Silvia's door — that he, Angel, and 
Oswald were leaving on a trip. They would very much like to see her again 
on their return to Dallas. 158 He hung up. Silvia never heard from him again. 

Three days later Silvia wrote to her father in prison about the visit of the 
three strangers, saying two had called themselves friends of his. He wrote 
back that he knew none of the men, and that she should not get involved with 
any of them. 159 

In the early afternoon of November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Silvia Odio heard 
of President Kennedy's assassination on the radio on her way back to work 
from lunch. Although the radio made no mention yet of Oswald, Silvia 

thought immediately of the three men's visit to her apartment and what 
Leopoldo said on the phone about Leon's remarks on killing Kennedy. She 
felt a deep sense of fear. She began saying to herself, "Leon did it! Leon did 
it!" 160 While everyone was being sent home from Silvia's workplace, she 
became more terrified. As she was walking to her car, she fainted. She woke 

up in the hospital. 

When Silvia's sister, Annie, first saw Oswald on television that afternoon, 

she thought, "My God, I know this guy from somewhere!" She kept asking 
herself where she'd seen him. Her sister Serita phoned: Silvia had fainted at 
work and was in the hospital. Annie went immediately to the hospital. 

When Annie visited Silvia, she told her she knew she'd seen the guy on the 
TV who'd shot President Kennedy, but she didn't know where. Silvia began 
to cry. She asked Annie if she remembered the three men's visit to the apart- 
ment. Then Annie realized she'd not only seen Oswald but had spoken with 
him at the door. Silvia told her of Leopoldo's follow-up phone call about 
Oswald's threats against the president. Annie, too, became deeply frightened. 
Silvia by now had also seen television pictures of the presumed assassin. She 
was certain Lee Harvey Oswald was identical to the "Leon Oswald" who 
had stood at her door under the light between the two Cubans. 

Because of Silvia's and Annie's fears for themselves and their scattered 
family, the two sisters vowed to each other not to tell the authorities what 
they knew. 161 However, a friend who heard their story told the FBI. Silvia 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

was interviewed by the FBI in December 1963, but was not called to testify 
before the Warren Commission until the end of July 1 964. Her evidence of 
a conspiracy setting up Oswald was not something the Warren Commission 
wanted to hear. As the Commission's General Counsel, J. Lee Rankin, said 
to the author of a memorandum supporting Odio's story, "At this stage, we 
are supposed to be closing doors, not opening them." 162 

The Warren Report dismissed Silvia Odio's testimony by arguing Oswald 
had already left for Mexico City before the three men's visit to her door. 163 
But whether it was Oswald or a look-alike at the door, Leopoldo's phone 
call made the purpose of the visit obvious. Oswald was being set up. The 
incident was proof of a conspiracy designed to make Oswald the patsy. 164 

An assassination scenario that included the Odio incident was still more 
comprehensive. In the case of the Odio family and Manolo Ray, the targets 
of guilt by association with Oswald included Kennedy allies in the Cuban 
exile community. They were also to be silenced by fear. That worked to some 
degree on Silvia Odio. But when it came to facing a question of conscience 
forced upon her, Silvia Odio was a witness to the truth. 

n the fall of 1963, while Lee Harvey Oswald was being redirected to Dal- 
las, John F. Kennedy was trying to begin his withdrawal from Vietnam. He 
was being obstructed by military officials — and by his own hasty support of 
a coup d'etat against the South Vietnamese government. 

In the early summer, Kennedy had kept his military and CIA advisers out 
of his discussions on Vietnam. This significant fact was mentioned years later 
by his Assistant Secretary of Defense William P. Bundy in an unpublished 
manuscript. According to Bundy, during the early part of Kennedy's final 
summer in office, he consulted on Vietnam with just a few advisers in the 
State Department and White House, thereby leaving out representatives of 
the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA. 165 But this is 
hardly surprising. The dysfunctional relationship between Kennedy and his 
Cold War hierarchy had already reached the point where he kept his think- 
ing on controversial subjects to himself — and a tight circle of friends with 
whom he shared that thinking sporadically. By leaving the Pentagon and the 
CIA out of the Vietnam loop, he wasn't fooling them. They knew he planned 
to withdraw from Vietnam. They also knew they'd been left out of other key 

decisions. At precisely the same time, the early summer of 1963, besides side- 
stepping the Pentagon and the CIA on Vietnam, the president had also left 
them out of consultations for his American University address and the test 
ban treaty. The reason was simple. Kennedy knew the military-intelligence 
elite was opposed to all his efforts to end the Cold War. They wanted to 
win it. 

At the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were dragging their heels on the 
Vietnam withdrawal plan. The chiefs used the Buddhist crisis as a rationale 
for bogging down McNamara's May order that a specific plan be prepared 

Marked Out for Assassination 


for the withdrawal of one thousand military personnel by the end of 1963. 
On August 20, the chiefs wrote to McNamara that "until the political and 
religious tensions now confronting the Government of Vietnam have eased," 
"no US units should be withdrawn from the Republic of Vietnam." 166 The 
chiefs argued, for the same reason, that "the final decision to implement the 
withdrawal plan should be withheld until late October" — one month before 
Kennedy would be assassinated. But Kennedy and McNamara sped up the 
process. The decision for withdrawal would in fact be made in early October. 

Even the select few in the State Department whom Kennedy was consult- 
ing on Vietnam did not serve him well. In late August, Averell Harriman, 
who had returned triumphantly from the test ban negotiations in Moscow, 
and Roger Hilsman, now in charge of the Vietnam desk, precipitated a deci- 
sion for U.S. support of a coup against Diem. On August 24, during a week- 
end when Kennedy was in Hyannis Port, Hilsman, working with Harriman 
and Kennedy's aide Michael Forrestal, drafted an urgent telegram to newly 
appointed Saigon ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. The telegram authorized 
U.S. support of a looming coup by rebel South Vietnamese generals, if Diem 
refused to remove from power his brother Nhu and sister-in-law Madame 

Ngo Dinh Nhu seemed to be taking over the Saigon government. His ever 
more violent repression of the Buddhists, together with Madame Nhu's state- 
ments applauding Buddhist immolations, had outraged Vietnamese and 
American public opinion. In the face of the generals' imminent coup, the 
State Department telegram read in a crucially important sentence: "We wish 
give Diem reasonable opportunity to remove Nhus, but if he remains obdu- 
rate, then we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no 
longer support Diem." 167 

When Kennedy was urged by Forrestal in Washington to endorse the 
telegram because all his advisers had done so (which proved not to be the 
case), the president said to go ahead and send it. Then the generals backed 
down from the coup. However, in a hasty policy decision that Kennedy soon 
regretted but never reversed, he had put the government on record as being 
in conditional support of a coup — after giving "Diem reasonable opportunity 
to remove Nhus." 

At the Saigon Embassy, Henry Cabot Lodge interpreted this condition in 
terms of a diplomatic strategy he had worked out with someone other than 
the president. After his appointment by Kennedy and before his move to 
Vietnam, Lodge had consulted his old friend and employer Henry Luce at 
Time on how he should deal with Diem. 

By his decision to look to Luce for guidance in Saigon, Lodge was already 
indicating where his real allegiance lay. It was not to the president who had 
just given him his appointment as ambassador. Lodge was meeting in the 
enemy's camp. Henry Luce was, first of all, a longtime CIA ally. As Graham 
Greene pointed out, it was Luce's Life magazine that worked with the CIA 
to scapegoat "Viet Minh Communists" for the CIA's terrorist bombings of 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Saigon in 1952. Besides being CIA-friendly, Henry Luce was an enemy to 
Kennedy. In the wake of the April 1962 steel crisis, Luce's Fortune magazine 
had implicitly warned the president, on behalf of America's business elite, to 
beware "the ides of April" for his dominant role in settling the crisis. 168 The 
Fortune editorial was a corporate declaration of war against the Kennedy 
administration and a veiled personal threat to the president. Henry Luce and 
his media empire epitomized the corporate, military, and intelligence forces 
that wanted to stop Kennedy. For Henry Cabot Lodge to consult Henry Luce 
on how Lodge should act as Kennedy's Vietnam ambassador was asking for 
trouble for the president. Luce was happy to oblige. 

He recommended that Lodge read the Time articles on Vietnam by staff 
writer Charles Mohr. Lodge did. He was especially impressed by Mohr's 
argument that Lodge's predecessor, Ambassador Frederick Nolting, had been 

"too weak" in confronting Diem with demands for change. Mohr's graphic 
analogy was that the United States and Diem were like "two teenagers play- 
ing head-on collision chicken in souped-up hot rods . . . The trouble is, the 
U.S. chickens out before Diem does." 169 

Lodge became inspired by the thought of playing his own game of 
"chicken" with Diem. He knew Diem could not hope to win such a game 
with Washington. The United States had a crushing vehicle compared to its 
client ruler. All Lodge had to do was refuse to deal with Diem, threaten 
implicitly to run him over while U.S. political and economic pressures 
mounted, and not "chicken out." If Diem should be so proud as to refuse to 
"chicken out" himself, he would be run over by the United States with 
Lodge's foot on the throttle. When he moved into the ambassador's residence 
in Saigon, Lodge used an abstract of Mohr's "chicken" article as background 
for his own primer: "Talking Points for Conversation Between Ambassador 
Lodge and President Diem." 170 

Following the August 24 telegram, Lodge showed how unwilling he was 

to give Diem any "reasonable opportunity to remove Nhus." In response to 
those specific instructions, he cabled back the State Department: 

"Believe that chances of Diem meeting our demands are virtually nil. At 
same time, by making them we give Nhu chance to forestall or block action 
by military. Risk, we believe, is not worth taking, with Nhu in control com- 
bat forces Saigon. Therefore, propose we go straight to Generals with our 
demands, without informing Diem." 171 

The State Department agreed at once to Lodge's downward revision of 
an already disastrous directive. In Hyannis Port, President Kennedy was 
informed after the fact by Michael Forrestal that Acting Secretary of State 
James Ball, Averell Harriman, and Roger Hilsman had approved Lodge's 
"modification" 172 that now gave Diem no opportunity at all to forestall a 

When Kennedy returned to Washington, he was furious at discovering 
how his decision making had been usurped and manipulated over the week- 
end. "This shit has got to stop!" he said. 173 

Marked Out for Assassination 


Michael Forrestal offered to resign for his role in the short-circuited 
process. Kennedy snapped, "You're not worth firing. You owe me some- 
thing, so you stick around." 174 

Before the generals backed away from the coup, Lodge met with Diem 
on August 26. Diem said pointedly to the new American ambassador, "I 
hope there will be an end to reports of diverse activities interfering in Viet- 
namese affairs by United States agencies." 

Lodge replied evasively, "I've just arrived. Naturally I can't know every- 
thing that's going on. But I'll look into it." 175 

In fact, from his arrival in Saigon, Lodge had been actively promoting a 
coup. Through longtime CIA operative in Vietnam Colonel Lucien Conein, 
Lodge maintained regular contact with the generals. Conein had known most 
of the coup generals for years, ever since he conducted the CIA's sabotage 
operations against the Viet Minh in the mid-fifties under the direction of 
Edward Lansdale. 176 Lodge was continually frustrated over the next two 
months that he could not, even through Conein's urging, get the generals to 
stage a coup sooner. Lodge saw no possibility that Diem could act any dif- 
ferently than he had. For Lodge, the sooner the coup, the better. 

Kennedy, on the other hand, continued to hope Diem might still some- 
how back away from his repressive policies and remove the Nhus, who 
seemed to be the force behind them. Through Secretary of State Rusk, the 
president repeatedly urged Lodge to explore such alternatives with Diem. 

On August 28, Rusk wired Lodge: "We have concurred until now in your 
belief that nothing should be said to Diem, but changing circumstances, 
including his probable knowledge that something is afoot, lead us to ask 
again if you see value in one last man-to-man effort to persuade him to gov- 
ern himself and decisively to eliminate political influence of Nhus." 177 

Lodge rejected Rusk's suggestion: "I believe that such a step has no chance 
of getting the desired result and would have the very serious effect of being 
regarded by the Generals as a sign of American indecision and delay. I believe 
this is a risk which we should not run." 178 

Rusk tried again the next day, wiring Lodge: "Purpose of this message is 
to explore further question of possible attempt to separate Diem and the 
Nhus. In your telegram you appear to treat Diem and the Nhus as a single 
package ..." Rusk said he would be glad to have Lodge's thoughts "on 
whether further talks with Diem are contemplated to continue your opening 
discussions with him." 179 

However, Lodge was in no mood to talk with the man he regarded as his 
diplomatic enemy in a game of "chicken." He was determined to carry out 
his Luce-induced strategy against Diem. In a rebuttal telegram to Rusk, 
Lodge lectured the Secretary of State (and through him the president) that 
removing the Nhus "surely cannot be done by working through Diem. In 
fact Diem will oppose it . . . The best chance of doing it is by the Generals 
taking over the government lock, stock and barrel." He concluded: "I am 
contemplating no further talks with Diem at this time." 180 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

In another wire to Lodge on September 3, Rusk pressed the issue further: 
"In this situation feeling here is that it is essential that central negotiations 
should be conducted directly with Diem and that you should proceed to a 
first meeting as soon as in your judgment you think it is desirable . . . We 
should be inclined to press for earliest such meeting." 181 

Again Lodge deflected his orders from the president, replying to Rusk: "If 
I correctly understand instructions, they are based on a very different read- 
ing of the situation here and the possibilities than my own and my col- 
leagues." 182 Lodge repeated that he would continue to put off a meeting with 

Kennedy was becoming exasperated, at both Lodge's mulishness and at his 
own folly in not having heeded his brother Robert's warning against his 
appointing Lodge ambassador. Thanks to that appointment, he now had not 
only a stubborn South Vietnamese president to deal with but an equally stub- 
born American ambassador. Lodge was even resistant to the suggestion that 
he take the obvious diplomatic step of talking with Diem. JFK knew the 
chances of Diem's sidelining the Nhus or reforming his government were 
miniscule. But the president had another objective in mind in his eleventh- 
hour efforts to appeal to Diem, an objective he realized Henry Cabot Lodge 
was not going to facilitate. He wanted to save Diem's life. 

To the Cold War establishment, Ngo Dinh Diem was becoming dispos- 
able. Washington's Cold War leaders had been divided for some time over the 
merits of retaining Diem as their client "democratic" head of state for the 
Vietnam War. However, as a result of Diem's disastrous repression of the 
Buddhists, the factions were moving toward consensus. It was becoming 
obvious that Diem, an incompetent despot, had to go. Kennedy was under 
mounting pressure from the more liberal side of his government, the State 
Department, to end Diem's flagrantly authoritarian rule by a coup. In that 
respect, State's leading coup advocates, Harriman and Hilsman, had put 
themselves in an unlikely alliance with the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans, 
Richard Helms. 

When Helms was asked by Harriman to approve the August 24 telegram 
to Lodge since CIA Director John McCone (a Diem supporter) was out of 
town, the Deputy Director of Plans did so without hesitation. It was the CIA's 
career tactician Helms, not Kennedy's appointee McCone, who was running 
the Agency's covert operations — in this case beyond McCone's knowledge or 
control. McCone was a figurehead out of the CIA's covert-action loop. Helms 
felt no need to seek out, or defer to, McCone's judgment when it came to the 
CIA's endorsing (and facilitating) a coup in South Vietnam. "It's about time 
we bit this bullet," Helms told Harriman, 183 in direct conflict with what 
McCone would say to Kennedy on his return to Washington. But it was 
Helms who was literally calling the CIA's shots, not McCone. 

Kennedy wanted to save Diem's life from the looming generals' coup that 
had picked up a steamrolling momentum not only in South Vietnam (with 
Lodge pushing it) but also from opposite sides of the U.S. government in 

Marked Out for Assassination 


Washington. As a senator, John Kennedy, like Mike Mansfield, had helped 
bring Diem to power in South Vietnam. Regardless of Diem's downward 
path since then, Kennedy did not want to see him killed in a coup, especially 
one he was condoning. Because he was surrounded by people he couldn't 
trust, Kennedy called in an old friend to help him try to save Diem's life. 

Torby Macdonald had been Jack Kennedy's closest friend at Harvard. 
Like Kennedy, Macdonald was Irish Catholic, a second son, an athlete (Har- 
vard football team captain), and an avid reader. Torby was at Jack's side 
through severe illnesses at Harvard. He also helped his physically less tal- 
ented friend practice long hours catching passes on the Harvard football field 
and backstroking in the indoor swimming pool. Both men had sharp wits. 
They enjoyed each other's company immensely. In time they became politi- 
cal comrades in Washington. Torbert Macdonald was elected a Massachu- 
setts member of the House of Representatives in 1954, with Senator John 
Kennedy's support. When Kennedy was elected president, Macdonald 
remained his closest friend in Congress. 184 It was to Torbert Macdonald, per- 
haps the man JFK trusted most after his brother Robert, that the president 
turned in the fall of 1963 to help him try to save the life of Diem. 

Kennedy commissioned Macdonald to go to Saigon to appeal personally 
to Diem on behalf of the president. Macdonald was to bypass the CIA, the 
State Department, and Henry Cabot Lodge, in order to make an urgent per- 
sonal appeal to the South Vietnamese president to take the steps necessary 
to save his life. Macdonald would fly in and out of Saigon on military, not 
civilian, planes to maintain as much secrecy as possible, 185 with the assis- 
tance of the one arm of Kennedy's government, the military, whose com- 
mand still maintained a lingering (though lessening) support for Diem. 
Macdonald's preparations for his mission and the trip itself were carried out 
in total secrecy, with no known written records. Kennedy's biographer, Her- 
bert S. Parmet, discovered the hidden story after Macdonald's death in 1976. 
It was revealed to Parmet by Macdonald's lover, Eleanore Carney, identified 
in Parmet's JFK: The Presidency of John R Kennedy only as a confidential 
source. 186 Her report was confirmed by Torbert Macdonald, Jr., who said his 
father told him about the secret journey, 187 and by Macdonald's administra- 
tive assistant, Joe Croken. 188 Kennedy's aide Michael Forrestal provided fur- 
ther confirmation. He had briefed Macdonald for the trip. 189 

As JFK wished, Torbert Macdonald met with Diem. He presented 
Kennedy's personal plea that Diem remove the Nhus from power and that he 
himself take refuge in the American Embassy in Saigon. 

Macdonald warned Diem: "They're going to kill you. You've got to get 
out of here temporarily to seek sanctuary in the American Embassy and you 
must get rid of your sister-in-law and your brother." 190 

Diem would not budge. 

"He just won't do it," Macdonald reported back to the President. "He's 
too stubborn; just refuses to." 191 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

s Kennedy was trying to save Diem's life while going along with a coup 
that would take it, Lee Harvey Oswald was gaining employment at the 
Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. He got the job that would place him 
strategically right over the president's parade route through the intercession 
of Marina Oswald's friend Ruth Paine, a housewife with connections. 

It was through CIA asset George de Mohrenschildt that Ruth Paine had 
met Lee and Marina Oswald. When Warren Commission lawyer Wesley 

Liebeler asked Ruth Paine if Marina Oswald had ever mentioned George de 
Mohrenschildt to her, Paine answered, "Well, that's how I met her." She said 
her meeting with Marina occurred at a February 1963 party in Dallas. 192 De 
Mohrenschildt had helped arrange the party, which took place at the home 
of a friend. 193 Ruth Paine attended it especially to meet Marina. As a stu- 
dent of the Russian language, Ruth wanted to meet somebody with whom 
she could practice. 194 George de Mohrenschildt brought the Oswalds to the 
party. 195 Ruth Paine then spent part of the evening conversing in Russian 
with Marina. 196 De Mohrenschildt told the Warren Commission, "I noticed 
immediately that there was another nice relationship developed there 
between Mrs. Paine and Marina." 197 Ruth followed up her introduction to 
the Oswalds by letters, phone calls, and visits to Marina in particular. 

In late April, Ruth convinced Marina to move into Ruth's house in Irving, 
a suburb of Dallas, for two weeks, while Lee went ahead "to look for work" 
in New Orleans — the context where he would be sheep-dipped by U.S. intel- 
ligence that summer as a follower of Fidel Castro. Marina's living with Ruth 
Paine would become a more permanent arrangement in the fall. It was sup- 
ported from the beginning by Ruth's husband, Michael Paine, then separated 
from Ruth and their two young children and living in his own apartment. 
When Lee Oswald said he was settled in New Orleans, Ruth with her chil- 
dren drove Marina and her fourteen-month-old daughter June down to New 
Orleans, again with the encouragement and financial support of Michael 

By the time George de Mohrenschildt dropped out of the Oswalds' lives 
in April 1963, Ruth and her husband, Michael Paine, had taken de Mohren- 
schildt's place as Marina's and Lee's Dallas sponsors. De Mohrenschildt's 
sponsorship was sanctioned by the CIA. Three hours before his death in 
1977 in Florida by an apparently self-inflicted shotgun blast, George de 
Mohrenschildt revealed in an interview that he befriended Lee Harvey 
Oswald at the encouragement of Dallas CIA agent J. Walton Moore, with 
whom he had been meeting regularly for years. 198 In return for his shep- 
herding of Oswald, de Mohrenschildt asked for and received a discreetly 
facilitated $285,000 contract with dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier to do a 
geological survey in Haiti. 199 De Mohrenschildt did no geological survey in 
Haiti, but still deposited over $200,000 in his bank account. 200 When de 
Mohrenschildt left Dallas in April for Haiti (stopping off in Washington, 
D.C., for a meeting with CIA and Army intelligence officials), 201 Ruth and 
Michael Paine stepped into his place as the Oswalds' Dallas benefactors. 

Marked Out for Assassination 


It was as if de Mohrenschildt had handed off the Oswalds to the Paines 
like a football in a reverse end run. When the Dallas play-action began, the 
Oswalds were being carried by a prominent White Russian anti-communist. 
As de Mohrenschildt with CIA assistance left the Dallas action for Haiti, the 
Oswalds were suddenly in the hands of a Quaker-Unitarian couple who 
belonged to the ACLU. If it was in fact a handoff, one trick play in a larger 
game plan, its sleight of hand was so successful that when the game was over, 
hardly anyone even remembered this one critical play. 

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover apparently did notice, however, that there 
was a de Mohrenschildt-Paine parallel of a classified nature whose public 
revelation could threaten the credibility of the Warren Commission. Hoover 
wrote a letter to head Warren Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin on Octo- 
ber 23, 1964, urging him not to release certain FBI "reports and memoranda 
dealing with Michael and Ruth Paine and George and Jeanne de Mohren- 
schildt." Hoover warned Rankin: "Making the contents of such documents 
available to the public could cause serious repercussions to the Commis- 
sion." 202 

Who, then, were Michael and Ruth Paine? 

When the Oswalds came under the protective wings of the Paines, 
Michael Paine was working as a research engineer with a defense contrac- 
tor, Bell Helicopter, in Fort Worth, Texas. 203 Paine acknowledged in his tes- 
timony to the Warren Commission that his job had a security clearance but 
claimed, "I don't happen to know what the classification is." 204 However, 
Michael Paine was no ordinary Bell Helicopter engineer. His stepfather, 
Arthur Young, with whom he worked previously, was the inventor of the 
Bell Helicopter — a fact discovered by researchers thirty years after the 
Kennedy assassination. 205 By heritage Michael Paine was well connected in 
the military-industrial complex. 

Michael Paine's mother, Ruth Forbes Paine Young, was connected to Allen 
Dulles. Descended from the blue blood Forbes family of Boston, Ruth Forbes 
Paine Young was a lifelong friend of Mary Bancroft, who worked side by side 
with Allen Dulles as a World War II spy in Switzerland and became his mis- 
tress. 206 Mary Bancroft said in an oral history interview that she "knew the 

mother of Michael Paine where Oswald stayed. She was Ruth Forbes, a very 
good friend of mine." 207 

When Michael Paine testified before the Warren Commission, Allen Dulles 
asked one question that veered perilously close to relevance. He said to 
Michael Paine, "Is this Mr. Young your stepfather?" Paine said, "That is 
right." 208 Dulles retreated quickly into silence, allowing a commission lawyer 
to continue the questioning. Allen Dulles had ample reason not to ask follow- 
up questions about Arthur Young. Such queries might have surfaced 
Michael's stepfather's fame in the military-industrial complex as the inven- 
tor of the Bell Helicopter. Michael Paine's mother was even more dangerous 
territory for Dulles. He asked nothing at all about her. Least of all did Allen 
Dulles want it to emerge that the mother of the Oswald sponsor they were 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

questioning lightly was a very good friend of his wartime mistress, with 
whom he maintained close contact. 209 

Ruth Hyde Paine, Michael's wife and Marina Oswald's caregiver, was the 
daughter of William Avery Hyde. To the Warren Commission Ruth Paine 
described her father's occupation in modest terms: "He is an insurance under- 
writer; he composes the fine print." 210 William Avery Hyde was at the time 
an insurance executive destined for an influential government post. 

In October 1964, right after the publication of the Warren Report fea- 
turing his daughter Ruth as the government's key witness (other than Marina 
Oswald) to the guilt of Lee Harvey Oswald in murdering John Kennedy, 
William Avery Hyde received a three-year government contract from AID 
(Agency for International Development). From October 1964 to August 
1967, William Avery Hyde was AID's Regional Insurance Adviser for all of 
Latin America. 211 Hyde's job description was to provide technical assistance 
from the U.S. State Department to insurance cooperatives being launched 
throughout the region. At the same time, the reports Hyde filed from his time 
in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Panama can be seen in the context of what a 
later AID director, former Ohio governor John Gilligan, admitted frankly 
was AID's collateral CIA function: 

"At one time, many AID field offices [under the auspices of the State 
Department] were infiltrated from top to bottom with CIA people. It was 
pretty well known in the agency who they were and what they were up to . . . 
The idea was to plant operatives in every kind of activity we had overseas, 
government, volunteer, religious, every kind." 212 

If William Avery Hyde was acting as a CIA "executive agent," 213 then his 
expertise in helping to provide lower-cost insurance in Latin American coun- 
tries was his cover for gathering information on people the CIA was watch- 
ing carefully in the ferment of the sixties. While it was to the State 
Department's AID office that William Avery Hyde made his August 8, 1967, 
end-of-tour report from Lima, Peru, still as noted explicitly on its cover page, 
Hyde's report went to the CIA as well. 214 

Ruth Hyde Paine was also the younger sister of Sylvia Hyde Hoke, who in 
1963 was living in Falls Church, Virginia. Thirty years after John Kennedy's 
assassination, a CIA Security File Memorandum on Sylvia Hyde Hoke was 
declassified at the National Archives. The CIA memorandum noted that Sylvia 
Hoke was identified as a CIA employee in the 1961 issue of the Falls Church, 
Virginia, City Directory. The memorandum warned: "Since it is known that 
opposition intelligence services have in the past checked similar publications, 
it should be presumed that the indicated employment of Subject by CIA is 
known to other intelligence organizations." 215 

However, Sylvia's CIA employment — in its eighth year in 1963 216 — was 
not known to her sister Ruth, at least according to Ruth's later testimony. 

Ruth stayed with Sylvia at her Falls Church home near CIA headquarters 
in September 1963. 217 After her visit at Sylvia and John Hoke's CIA-related 
household (as his father-in-law would soon, John worked for the agency's 

Marked Out for Assassination 


front, AID), 218 Ruth drove to New Orleans to meet the Oswalds. Ruth then 
drove Marina back to Dallas, so Marina could settle more permanently into 
the Paines' home while awaiting the birth of her second child. In October, 
Ruth arranged Lee Oswald's employment at the Texas School Book Depos- 
itory overlooking Dealey Plaza. 

With this sequence of events as the background, New Orleans District 
Attorney Jim Garrison questioned Ruth Paine before a grand jury in 1968. 
Garrison asked Paine if her sister Sylvia did any work in connection with 
the U.S. government in 1963. 

PAINE: "She has worked . . . she did something with G9, what is this . . . 
well, it would be a government job." 

Garrison: "What did she do with the government?" 

PAINE: "She majored in psychology, one of the things I recall is making 
testing angles, how to test a Bedouin to know whether he can be a good 
oil drill operator, this kind of thing." 

Garrison: "Do you know what government agency she has worked 

Paine: "No, just worked for the government." 219 

Without access to government documents identifying Ruth Paine's sister 
as a CIA employee, Garrison asked Paine: "Do you know why the inves- 
tigative file on Sylvia Hyde Hoke is still classified in the archives as secret?" 

Paine: "No, is it?" 

Garrison: "... Yes, most of the file's still classified. Do you have any 

idea why they would do that? It seems there is no reason. 

Paine: "No." 220 


The Warren Report states that on October 14, 1963, "at the suggestion 
of a neighbor, Mrs. Paine phoned the Texas School Book Depository and 
was told that there was a job opening. She informed Oswald who was inter- 
viewed the following day at the Depository and started to work there on 
October 16, 1963. " 221 

However, the Warren Commission also knew that on October 15, the day 

before Oswald began work at the Texas School Book Depository, Robert 
Adams of the Texas Employment Commission phoned the Paine residence 
with a much better job prospect for Oswald. Adams spoke with someone at 
the Paines' number about his being prepared to give Oswald a referral for 
permanent employment as a baggage or cargo handler at Trans Texas Air- 
ways, for a salary $100 per month higher than that offered by the Book 
Depository's only temporary job. Adams told the Warren Commission, "I 
learned from the person who answered the phone that Oswald was not there. 
I left a message with that person that Oswald should contact me at the Com- 

99 1 1 1 

mission. LLL 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Adams tried phoning the Paine residence about the higher-paying job 
again the next morning. He said he "learned from the person who answered 
that Oswald was not there and that he had in the meantime obtained employ- 
ment and was working. " 223 Adams accordingly cancelled Oswald as a refer- 
ral for the more lucrative job. 224 

Ruth Paine was questioned by a sympathetic Warren Commission lawyer, 
Albert Jenner, about this more promising job possibility. She first denied 
knowing anything about it, then recalled it vaguely, and finally said she knew 
about it from Lee himself: 

Jenner: "Did you ever hear anything by way of discussion or otherwise 
by Marina or Lee of the possibility of his having been tendered or at least 
suggested to him a job at Trans-Texas, as a cargo handler at $310 per 

Paine: "No; in Dallas?" 
Jenner: "Yes." 

PAINE: "I do not recall that. $310 a month?" 

Jenner: "Yes. This was right at the time that he obtained employment 
at the Texas School Book Depository." 

Paine: "And he was definitely offered such a job?" 

Jenner: "Well, I won't say it was offered — that he might have been 
able to secure a job through the Texas Employment Commission as a 
cargo handler at $310 per month." 

PAINE: "I do recall some reference of that sort, which fell through 
that there was not that possibility." 

JENNER: "Tell us what you know about that. Did you hear of it at the 

Paine: "Yes." 

Jenner: "Now, would you please relate that to me?" 

Paine: "I recall some reference to — " 

Jenner: "How did it come about?" 

Paine: "From Lee, as I recall." 

Jenner: "And was it at the time, or just right — " 

Paine: "It was at the time, while he was yet unemployed." 

Jenner: "And about the time he obtained employment at the Texas 
School Book Depository?" 

Paine: "It seemed to me he went into town with some hopes raised by 
the employment agency — whether a public or private employment agency 
I don't know — but then reported that the job had been filled and not avail- 
able to him." 

Jenner: "But that was — " 

PAINE: "That is my best recollection." 
Jenner: "Of his report to you and Marina?" 

Paine: "Yes." 

Marked Out for Assassination 


Jenner: "But you do recall his discussing it?" 

Paine: "I recall something of that nature. I do not recall the job 
itself." 225 

Robert Adams concluded from his own efforts to notify Oswald of the 
Trans Texas job by phoning the Paine residence: "I do not know whether he 
was ever advised of this referral, but under the circumstances I do not see 
how he could have been." 226 

The same New Orleans grand jury that heard Ruth Paine's testimony 
about the Oswalds also heard Marina Oswald's testimony about Ruth Paine. 
A juror asked Marina if she still saw Ruth in 1968. 

Marina answered, "No, I like her and appreciate what she did. I was 
advised by Secret Service not to be connected with her." Marina said the rea- 
son she was advised by the Secret Service to stay away from Ruth was "she 
was sympathizing with the CIA." 

Could she elaborate, she was asked, on what the Secret Service told her 
about Ruth Paine and the CIA? 

Marina: " Seems like she had friends over there and it would be bad for 
me if people find out connection between me and Ruth and CIA. " 

QUESTION: "In other words, you were left with the distinct impression 
that she was in some way connected with the CIA?" 

Marina: "Yes." 227 

As a consequence of both Lee Harvey Oswald's successful referral by Ruth 
Paine to the Texas School Book Depository and his missed opportunity for 
a better job at Trans Texas Airways, Oswald began work on October 16, 
1963, at the Book Depository. The scapegoat was now in place at an ideal 
ambush site. It was five weeks before President Kennedy's motorcade would 
pass through Dealey Plaza. 


Saigon and Chicago 

t the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nikita Khrushchev said some- 
thing totally unexpected to his Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko. He 
said, "We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him." 1 

As Khrushchev's son, Sergei, describes that surprising moment, his father 

hesitated to use the word "help" in response to John Kennedy's plea for pre- 
cisely that. When Khrushchev did say the word aloud, it forced him to ask 
himself: Did he really want to help his enemy Kennedy? 

Yet Khrushchev knew from his secret correspondence with the U.S. pres- 
ident that the two men agreed on Noah's Ark as a crucial symbol of their 
common predicament in the nuclear age. The precarious boat in which they 
and all of humanity were living on a sea of conflict had to stay afloat. 

After a short silence inspired by the sense of his word, "help," Khrushchev 
repeated it to a wondering Gromyko: 

"Yes, help. We now have a common cause, to save the world from those 
pushing us toward war." 2 

In that grace-filled moment, Nikita Khrushchev, his new partner John 
Kennedy, and the world with them, went from darkness to dawn. 

What especially moved Khrushchev to help Kennedy by withdrawing the 
Soviet missiles from Cuba was Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin's description 

of his meeting with Robert Kennedy. The president's brother was exhausted. 
Dobrynin could see from Robert Kennedy's eyes that he hadn't slept for days. 
RFK told him the president "didn't know how to resolve the situation. The 
military is putting great pressure on him, insisting on military actions against 

Cuba and the President is in a very difficult position . . . Even if he doesn't 
want or desire a war, something irreversible could occur against his will. 
That is why the President is asking for help to solve this problem." 3 

In his memoirs, Khrushchev reported a further, chilling sentence from 
Robert Kennedy's appeal to Dobrynin: "If the situation continues much 


Saigon and Chicago 


longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and 
seize power." 4 

Sergei has described his father's thoughts when he read Dobrynin's report 
relaying the Kennedys' plea: "The president was calling for help: that was 
how father interpreted Robert Kennedy's talk with our ambassador. The tone 
of the conversation was evidence of the fact that to delay could be fatal. The 
temperature in the Washington boiler had apparently reached a dangerous 
point and was about to explode." 5 

Half a world apart, in radical ideological conflict, both Kennedy in his 
call for help and Khrushchev in his response had recognized their interde- 
pendence with each other and the world. They suddenly joined hands. After 
threatening to destroy the world, the two enemies turned to each other in des- 
peration and grace. Instead of annihilation, they chose, in Khrushchev's 
words, "a common cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward 
war. " 

Khrushchev's decision to help Kennedy in the Missile Crisis was recipro- 
cated by Kennedy's helping Khrushchev by the American University address, 
which led in turn to their signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Both men 
were ready for more cooperation. Neither wanted the Cold War to continue. 

The deepening Kennedy-Khrushchev detente was the larger context of 
the unfolding plot to assassinate Kennedy. It had become clear to America's 
power brokers that the president of their national security state was strug- 
gling with his Communist opponent not so much over who would win the 
Cold War as on how to end it. From a national security standpoint, the pres- 
ident had become a traitor. 

In the fall of 1963, Kennedy, like Khrushchev, had been given new eyes. 
JFK saw everything in relation to the threat of annihilation he and the Soviet 

premier had retreated from the previous fall and the hope of peace they had 
discovered. The Cold War was receding. The moment was ripe with hope. 
Now was the time to make politics obedient to that hope. 

On September 20, 1963, two months and two days before his death, 
Kennedy spoke to the United Nations. He took the opportunity to return to 
a theme of his American University address — pursuing a strategy of peace 
through a step-by-step process. 

"Peace," he said, "is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually chang- 
ing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. 
And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on." 6 

In the wake of the test-ban agreement, he identified the time as one of 
huge responsibility: 

"Today we may have reached a pause in the cold war — but that is not a 
lasting peace. A test ban treaty is a milestone — but it is not the millennium. 
We have not been released from our obligations — we have been given an 
opportunity. And if we fail to make the most of this moment and this 
momentum — if we convert our new-found hopes and understandings into 
new walls and weapons of hostility — if this pause in the cold war merely 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

leads to its renewal and not to its end — then the indictment of posterity will 
rightly point its finger at us all. But if we can stretch this pause into a period 
of cooperation — if both sides can now gain new confidence and experience 
in concrete collaborations for peace — if we can now be as bold and f arsighted 
in the control of deadly weapons as we have been in their creation — then 
surely this first small step can be the start of a long and fruitful journey." 7 

Kennedy challenged the Soviet Union to join the United States in devel- 
oping a new means of security: 

"I would say to the leaders of the Soviet Union, and to their people, that 
if either of our countries is to be fully secure, we need a much better weapon 
than the H-bomb — a weapon better than ballistic missiles or nuclear sub- 
marines — and that better weapon is peaceful cooperation." 8 

Asa concrete step in peaceful cooperation, he suggested a joint expedition 
to the moon, a project that could involve not only the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. 
"but the representatives of all our countries." 9 However, neither American 
nor Soviet military leaders, jealous of their rocket secrets, would look on his 
idea with enthusiasm. Kennedy was pushing the generals and scientists on 
both sides of the East-West struggle. He knew that merging their missile 
technologies in a peaceful project would help to defuse the Cold War. It was 
part of his day-by-day strategy of peace. 

More broadly, he proposed that their rival nations transform the Cold 
War into its moral equivalent: "a desire not to 'bury' one's adversary, but to 
compete in a host of peaceful arenas, in ideas, in production, and ultimately 
in service to all mankind . . . And in the contest for a better life all the world 
can be a winner." 10 

In his American University address, Kennedy had appealed to Americans 
and Russians alike to recognize, for the sake of all, what they had in com- 
mon: "if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the 
world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link 
is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all 
cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." 11 

Now speaking to the representatives of all nations, he again envisioned the 
hope of a peaceful, transformed planet over against the threat of extermina- 

"Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environ- 
ment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish 
illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the 
best generation of mankind in the history of the world — or to make it the 
last." 12 

He concluded by suggesting that the members of the United Nations 
engage together in an experiment in peace: 

"Two years ago I told this body that the United States had proposed, and 
was willing to sign, a limited test ban treaty. Today that treaty has been 
signed. It will not put an end to war. It will not remove basic conflicts. It will 
not secure freedom for all. But it can be a lever, and Archimedes, in explain- 

Saigon and Chicago 


ing the principles of the lever, was said to have declared to his friends: 'Give 
me a place where I can stand — and I shall move the world.' 

"My fellow inhabitants of this planet: Let us take our stand here in this 
Assembly of nations. And let us see if we, in our own time, can move the 
world to a just and lasting peace." 13 

When he said these words, John Kennedy was secretly initiating his own 

risky experiment in peace. That same day at the United Nations, Kennedy 

told UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson that his assistant, William Attwood, 

should go ahead "to make discreet contact" with Cuba's UN ambassador 

Carlos Lechuga. 14 Was Fidel Castro interested in a dialogue with John 

Kennedy? A strongly affirmative answer would come back from Castro, who 
had been urged by Khrushchev to begin trusting Kennedy. Although Kennedy 

specified that the CIA not be told of his Cuban initiative, Attwood later 
wrote, "the CIA must have had an inkling of what was happening from 
phone taps and surveillance of Lechuga." 15 Attwood also said, "There is no 
doubt in my mind. If there had been no assassination we probably would 
have moved into negotiations leading to a normalization of relations with 
Cuba." 16 In September 1963, eleven months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, 
JFK had turned in a new direction. He was now following up the test ban 
treaty with Nikita Khrushchev by reaching out to his other enemy, Fidel Cas- 
tro, in spite of the obvious dangers involved. 

Kennedy and Khrushchev, in almost choosing total darkness, had been 

moved to see the light. They had then reached an agreement whereby they 
could lead by example, in the presence of all nations, in seeking the moral 
equivalent of war — using the test ban as a lever to move the world to a just 
and lasting peace. Thanks to John Kennedy's and Nikita Khrushchev's 
mutual turning away from nuclear war, they now had the power to make 
peace. But with determined Cold Warriors surrounding them, neither man 
would long retain that power. Their time for making peace would soon pass. 

n October 9, 1963, one week before Lee Harvey Oswald began his job 
at a site overlooking the president's future parade route, an FBI official 
in Washington, D.C., disconnected Oswald from a federal alarm system that 
was about to identify him as a threat to national security. The FBI man's 
name was Marvin Gheesling. He was a supervisor in the Soviet espionage sec- 
tion at FBI headquarters. 17 His timing was remarkable. As author John New- 
man remarked in an analysis of this phenomenon, Gheesling "turned off the 
alarm switch on Oswald literally an instant before it would have gone off." 18 
Four years earlier, in November 1959 shortly after Oswald told the U.S. 
Embassy in Moscow he would give military secrets to the Soviet Union, the 
FBI issued a FLASH on Oswald. A "Wanted Notice Card" was sent through- 
out the Bureau stating that anyone who received information or an inquiry 
on Oswald should notify the Espionage Section, Division 5. 19 By its FLASH 
the FBI had put a security watch on Oswald that covered all its offices. That 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

watch was abolished on October 9, 1963, for no apparent reason, only hours 
before the FBI received critical information on Oswald. When Marvin 
Gheesling canceled Oswald's FLASH, 20 he effectively silenced the national 
security alarm that was just about to sound from an incoming CIA report on 
Oswald's (or an impostor's) activities in Mexico. 

From the perspective of the plot to kill Kennedy, the cancellation of the 
FBI's FLASH came in the nick of time. Oswald was to play the indispensa- 
ble role of scapegoat in the scenario, requiring that he be quietly manipulated 
right up through the assassination. Had the FBI alarm sounded, Oswald 
would have been placed on the Security Index, drawing critical law enforce- 
ment attention to him prior to Kennedy's visit to Dallas. That much pre- 
Dallas focus on the patsy would have made it impossible to play out the 
assassination scenario. The FBI watch on Oswald had to be revoked imme- 
diately. It was. 

What would have sounded the alarm on Oswald was the CIA's October 
10, 1963, message to the FBI about Oswald contacting the Soviet Embassy 
in Mexico City. 21 Because Oswald's security watch had just been lifted, the 
CIA's October 10 message managed to document his latest Soviet connec- 
tion in a way that would become explosive after the assassination, while at 
the same time avoiding a security alert on Oswald before the assassination. 
It was a brilliant tactic in manipulating the FBI that demonstrated just how 
sophisticated the plotters' knowledge and control was of their national secu- 
rity bureaucracy. John Kennedy was killed by people who knew their 
national security state inside out and could direct it according to their will. 

Even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was subservient to this kind of power. 

When Hoover learned after the assassination that supervisor Marvin 

Gheesling in the FBI's Soviet Espionage section had canceled the security 
watch on Oswald, he imposed censure and probation on Gheesling. 22 We 

have no evidence that Hoover himself had given any order to cancel the 
FLASH on Oswald. On the contrary, he seems to have been quite upset by 
Gheesling's action. He wrote angrily on the document censuring Gheesling: 
"Yes, send this guy to Siberia!" 23 ("Siberia" in Hoover's geography turned 
out to be the Detroit FBI office.) 24 

Hoover's comments suggest he was not a total master of his own house. 

A higher authority in the national security complex was bypassing him. We 
have already seen how Hoover scrawled another revealing comment on an 

FBI memo whose subject was that of keeping track of CIA operations in the 
United States. In that case Hoover was skeptical that the FBI could avoid 
being manipulated by the CIA. He wrote doubtfully: "O.K., but I hope you 
are not being taken in. I can't forget the CIA withholding the French espi- 
onage activities in the USA nor the false story re Oswald's trip to Mexico, 
only to mention two instances of their double-dealing" 15 

By "false story," Hoover meant false to the FBI — not the CIA's staged 
duplicity to the public whereby Oswald posed as a pro-Castro activist, but 
rather the CIA's behind-the-scenes lies to its co-intelligence agency, the FBI, 

Saigon and Chicago 


by a deeper cover story. What was the CIA story on Oswald's trip to Mex- 
ico that was false to the FBI? 

An important clue has been provided by a Senate committee's 1976 inves- 
tigation of U.S. intelligence agencies. The Church Committee discovered that 
on September 16, 1963, the CIA informed the FBI in a memorandum that the 
"Agency is giving some consideration to countering the activities of [the Fair 
Play for Cuba Committee] in foreign countries . . . CIA is also giving some 
thought to planting deceptive information which might embarrass the Com- 
mittee in areas where it does have some support." 26 

The obvious "foreign country" for the CIA's planting of such "deceptive 
information" was Mexico, near New Orleans, where Lee Harvey Oswald 
had already just embarrassed the FPCC by his summer antics in its name. As 
we know, Oswald or someone acting in his name was just about to make his 
famous trip to Mexico. But as the FBI would learn, "Oswald's" trip would 
have a much deeper purpose than to counter and embarrass the Fair Play 
for Cuba Committee. 

On the day after the CIA's deceptive advisory memo to the FBI, Oswald 
(or an impersonator) stood in line to get his tourist card from the Mexican 
Consulate in New Orleans. Immediately ahead of him was CIA agent 
William Gaudet, who had worked secretly for the Agency for more than 
twenty years. Gaudet then went to Mexico at the same time as Oswald. 27 
Oswald, or his stand-in, was again being shepherded by the CIA. As we have 
seen, the CIA then proceeded to record "Oswald's" communications with 
the Cuban and Soviet consulates. The evident purpose was not so much to 
discredit the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (the CIA's false story to the FBI) 
as to identify Oswald with Cuba and the Soviet Union, in order to scapegoat 
all three together in the president's upcoming murder. 

The FBI's Marvin Gheesling may then have canceled Oswald's FLASH 
because of the CIA's false advisory, or from a similar memorandum that has 
not been declassified. From the CIA story, Gheesling could easily have been 
misled into thinking Oswald was only working under cover in Mexico to 
counter the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. As a CIA operative, Oswald did 
not belong on the Security Index. Thus his security watch was lifted. His 
staged Soviet connection could then be documented for scapegoating pur- 
poses after Dallas, but without sounding a national security alarm that would 

have put a spotlight on Oswald and prevented Dallas from happening. 
In spite of Hoover's recognition of the CIA's "double-dealing," the FBI 

went along with it by covering up the Oswald-Gaudet-CIA connection. 

Oswald's Mexican tourist card was No. 824085. The FBI claimed after the 

assassination that it could find no record of the holder of preceding card No. 

824084. In 1975 the name that corresponded to 824084 was mistakenly 

declassified. It was the CIA's William Gaudet. 28 

Even within his own FBI domain, the notoriously autocratic J. Edgar 

Hoover gave way to a greater authority when it came to the forward progress 

of the plot to kill the president, as well as its cover-up afterwards. A more 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

powerful agency was in control of key mechanisms throughout the entire 
U.S. government. Hoover told an associate, "People think I'm so powerful, 
but when it comes to the CIA, there's nothing I can do." 29 

n early August 1963, what has been recognized as the first organized protest 
against the Vietnam War took place. 30 In New York, Tom Cornell and Chris 
Kearns of the Catholic Worker vigiled by themselves for nine days in front 
of the Manhattan residence of South Vietnam's observer to the United 
Nations. Their signs read: "We Demand an End to U.S. Military Support of 
Diem's Government." On the tenth day, Cornell and Kearns were joined by 
250 more demonstrators from the Catholic Worker and other peace groups. 
They were filmed by ABC News. 31 The antiwar movement had begun — three 
months after John Kennedy told Mike Mansfield he was preparing for a com- 
plete U.S. military withdrawal from Vietnam. 

This is not to say that the president was ahead of the peace movement. He 
had merely told Mansfield that he intended to end the U.S. military involve- 
ment. Nevertheless, his first step in actually withdrawing troops was not far 
behind the first antiwar demonstration. It was only two months later, on 
October 11, 1963, that he signed his presidential order for an initial with- 
drawal of one thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of the year, 
anticipating in that same order a complete troop withdrawal by the end of 
1965. 32 

But how does a president of the United States try to end a war, when vir- 
tually his entire Cold War bureaucracy wants to continue it? That was the 
problem John Kennedy was trying to work through in the fall of 1963, like 
a coach trying to guide a team that is determined to do the wrong thing on 
the playing field no matter what. Kennedy's team was only half-listening to 

him on war and peace, when they listened to him at all. 

The president's increasing isolation from his bureaucracy was evident in 
the resistance and outright manipulation he was beginning to experience 
from even his inner circle. Even the more liberal members of that circle could 
not agree with the glimpses they were getting of his heretical thinking on 
Vietnam. As John Kenneth Galbraith recognized, John Kennedy was con- 
stantly thinking ahead of everyone on his staff. Nevertheless, those around 
him were catching on to the benumbing truth that their president, who kept 
his cards extremely close to the vest, did want to withdraw from Vietnam and 
did not want the Saigon coup that several of them had pushed and that he 
had reluctantly authorized. The coup they thought necessary before they 
could defeat the Communists on the battlefield was a step he feared would 
only make matters worse in a disastrous cause. To their dismay, it seemed 
that Kennedy thought the Southeast Asian battlefield they were warming up 
to with anti-communist gusto was already a complete loss. 

Averell Harriman, for example, who had been the president's trusted test- 
ban negotiator in Moscow, was now doing everything he could with Hilsman 

Saigon and Chicago 


and Forrestal (and the CIA's Helms behind the scenes) to push through with 
Lodge the Saigon coup they had manipulated Kennedy into supporting in 
the first place. They were soon joined by National Security Adviser 
McGeorge Bundy, who on September 1 1 supported a cable from Lodge call- 
ing for the overthrow of Diem. 33 At this point they all thought, with mutual 
affirmation, that they knew better than their chief what had to be done to win 
the war, beginning with a coup to remove Diem as soon as possible. They 
hoped the president, with their help, would come to his senses. None of 
Kennedy's advisers was considering the unthinkable option of a U.S. with- 
drawal, except McNamara behind closed doors with the president, and 
Robert Kennedy in questions he began to raise in key meetings. But the pres- 
ident not only thought the unthinkable. He chose it. He was now trying to 
bring his advisers around to it. 

When Kennedy managed to escape the suffocating thinking of the circles 
around him in Washington, he confided bluntly in people he thought he could 
trust his decision to withdraw from Vietnam. 

The previous May on a visit to Canada, he had asked Canadian prime 
minister Lester Pearson for his advice on Vietnam. Pearson said the United 
States should "get out." Pearson was struck by Kennedy's undiplomatic reply. 

"That's a stupid answer. Everybody knows that," said JFK, ignoring all the 
anti- withdrawal sentiment in Washington. "The question is: How do we get 
out?" 34 

As we saw, he had already developed a withdrawal scenario with 
McNamara to begin gradually taking out troops that fall, finishing the 
process in 1965. How he would justify such a move politically, he didn't 
know yet. Pearson had been no help on a political strategy, saying only what 
Kennedy thought obvious. 

After the president told Mike Mansfield his plan to pull out completely 
after the 1964 election, he made the same point with brutal honesty to his 
old friend, Washington correspondent and columnist Charles Bartlett. 
Kennedy said to Bartlett: 

"We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. We don't have a prayer of 
prevailing there. Those people hate us. They are going to throw our tails out 
of there at almost any point. But I can't give up a piece of territory like that 
to the Communists and then get the American people to reelect me." 35 

Pearson, Mansfield, and Bartlett were not the last to hear Kennedy's state- 
ments on withdrawing from a war he was convinced couldn't be won. Dem- 
ocratic House Leader Tip O'Neill was another. 

After JFK's death, O'Neill liked to tell friends again and again the story 
of how the president had summoned him to the Oval Office "on an autumn 
day in 1963." There the two men "had talked about the situation in Con- 
gress, and the upcoming trip to Dallas, and how Kennedy had vowed that he 
was pulling the American troops out of Vietnam once the 1964 election was 
over." 36 

The president also aired his decision to withdraw from Vietnam with an 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

old friend in Hyannis Port. On October 20, 1963, during his last visit to 
Hyannis Port, Kennedy said to his next-door neighbor, Larry Newman: 

"This war in Vietnam — it's never off my mind, it haunts me day and night. 

"The first thing I do when Pm re-elected, I'm going to get the Americans 
out of Vietnam. " 

He again acknowledged his puzzlement at a political strategy for what he 
had already decided to do: "Exactly how I'm going to do it, right now, I 
don't know, but that is my number one priority — get out of Southeast Asia. 
I should have listened to MacArthur. I should have listened to De Gaulle. 

"We are not going to have men ground up in this fashion, this far away 

from home. I'm going to get those guys out because we're not going to find 
ourselves in a war it's impossible to win." 37 

He said the same thing to General David M. Shoup, commander of the 
Marines and the member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whom Kennedy most 
trusted. Shoup strengthened Kennedy's conviction that Vietnam was a total 
trap. JFK had asked his Marine commandant "to look over the ground in 
Southeast Asia and counsel him." Shoup did so and advised the president 
that "unless we were prepared to use a million men in a major drive, we 
should pull out before the war expanded beyond control." 38 

On the morning of November 11, the president and General Shoup met 
at the White House and walked over together to the Tomb of the Unknown 
Soldier for a wreath-laying ceremony. Moved by their remembrance of the 
American war dead and further convinced by Shoup's dramatic one-million 
men assessment, Kennedy told the general that he was withdrawing U.S. 
forces from Vietnam. As General David Shoup's widow, Zola D. Shoup, told 
me in an interview, "Dave came home saying, 'I know Kennedy's getting out 
of Vietnam.' Then two weeks later, Dave was walking behind the body in 
Arlington." 39 

The day after Kennedy told Shoup of his withdrawal plans, Senator Wayne 
Morse came to the White House to see the president about his education 
bills. Kennedy wanted to talk instead about Vietnam — to his most vehement 
war critic. Morse had been making two to five speeches a week in the Sen- 
ate against Kennedy on Vietnam. JFK took Morse out into the White House 
Rose Garden to avoid being overheard or bugged by the CIA. 40 

The president then startled Morse by saying: "Wayne, I want you to know 
you're absolutely right in your criticism of my Vietnam policy. Keep this in 
mind. I'm in the midst of an intensive study which substantiates your posi- 
tion on Vietnam. When I'm finished, I want you to give me half a day and 
come over and analyze it point by point." 

Taken aback, Morse asked the president if he understood his objections. 

Kennedy said, "If I don't understand your objections by now, I never 
will." 41 

JFK made sure Morse understood what he was saying. He added: "Wayne, 
I've decided to get out. Definitely!" 42 

Yet a mind needs hands to carry out its intentions. A president's hands 

Saigon and Chicago 


are his staff and extended government bureaucracy. As Kennedy knew, when 
it came down to the nitty-gritty of carrying out his decision to end the Viet- 
nam War, his administrative hands were resistant to doing what he wanted 
them to do, especially his Pentagon hands. He also knew that to withdraw 
from Vietnam "after I win the election" in the fall of 1964, he now had to 
inspire his aides to continue moving the machinery for withdrawal that he 
activated on October 11 with National Security Action Memorandum 263. 

That was why, on the day before he left for Dallas, he took aside one of 
his reluctant aides on Vietnam, Michael Forrestal. Kennedy first gave Forre- 
stal "odds of a hundred-to-one that the U.S. could not win" in Vietnam. 43 He 
then told Forrestal to prepare to do what Kennedy had said more frankly, in 
his conversation with Wayne Morse, he himself was already doing as a basis 
for his decision to withdraw from Vietnam: 

"I want to start a complete and very profound review of how we got into 
this country, what we thought we were doing, and what we now think we 
can do. I even want to think about whether or not we should be there." 44 

Kennedy was trying to bring aboard not only Michael Forrestal but his 
entire reluctant government by a "complete and very profound review" 
designed for a Vietnam withdrawal. The president's mind had to coax his 
government hands gently and circumspectly to get them to function as he 
wished, in response to his new thinking on not only the U.S.S.R. and Cuba, 
but most urgently in his own mind, Vietnam. 

Not the least of Kennedy's obstacles on Vietnam from September on con- 
tinued to be the noncooperation of his coup-pushing ambassador, Henry 

Cabot Lodge. After Kennedy's and Rusk's persistent appeals, Lodge had 
finally met with Diem on September 9 to appeal to him to send his brother 

Nhu away and thereby lift the worst government repression. The meeting 
had gone poorly, and Lodge's patrician attitude toward Diem had not helped. 
The ambassador's report back to the State Department dismissed Diem for 
"his medieval view of life." 45 Following the failed meeting, Lodge reverted 
to his strategy of "chicken" with Washington's client ruler, refusing to com- 
municate with Diem. Thus, the South Vietnamese ruler had to surrender to 
U.S. demands or he would be run over by the coup Lodge wanted and 
thought inevitable. 

Kennedy urged a different course. On September 17, the president sent a 
personal telegram to his ambassador that, first of all, put a brake on the coup 
that Lodge and his Washington collaborators were trying to accelerate: 

"We see no good opportunity for action to remove present government in 
immediate future. Therefore, as your most recent messages suggest, we must 
for the present apply such pressures as are available to secure whatever mod- 
est improvements on the scene may be possible. We think it likely that such 
improvements can make a difference, at least in the short run." 46 

Kennedy then appealed once again to his ambassador to act more like a 
diplomat than a coup leader, asking that Lodge engage in a serious dialogue 
with Diem: 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

"We note your reluctance to continue dialogue with Diem until you have 
more to say but we continue to believe that discussions with him are at a 
minimum an important source of intelligence and may conceivably be a 
means of exerting some persuasive effect even in his present state of mind . . . 
We ourselves can see much virtue in effort to reason even with an unrea- 
sonable man when he is on a collision course." 

The president added on this critical matter that he was nevertheless not 
issuing a command: "We repeat, however, that this is a matter for your judg- 
ment." 47 

Kennedy was, in essence, appealing to Lodge's resistant mind in the same 
way he hoped Lodge would appeal to Diem's resistant mind. Without know- 
ing Lodge's "chicken" game paradigm for his refusal to talk with Diem, 
Kennedy had discerned the problem and its solution: "We ourselves can see 
much virtue in effort to reason even with an unreasonable man when he is 
on a collision course" — an insight that applied just as much to Lodge as it 
did to Diem. Both were on a collision course, just as Lodge wished. But a 
strategy of dialogue (no matter what) that had worked well for Kennedy 
with his enemy Khrushchev got him nowhere with his own Saigon ambas- 
sador, nor as a consequence, with Diem. 

In a personal reply to the president, Lodge immediately rejected his appeal 
for a dialogue with Diem, insisting instead on his own "policy of silence": "I 
have been observing a policy of silence which we have reason to believe is 
causing a certain amount of apprehension and may just be getting the fam- 
ily into the mood to make a few concessions." 48 

What most upset Lodge, however, in the president's telegram was that 
Kennedy had announced that he was about to send Defense Secretary Robert 
McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff, to Vietnam. The ambassador protested that Kennedy would thereby 
nullify Lodge's ploy of distancing himself from Diem. 

"The effect of this [policy of silence toward Diem]," Lodge rebuked the 
president, "will obviously be lost if we make such a dramatic demonstration 
as that of having the Secretary of Defense and General Taylor come out 
here," given the diplomatic necessity of their then meeting with Diem. 49 

Kennedy's main State Department advisers on Vietnam, Averell Harriman 
and Roger Hilsman, and his White House aide, Michael Forrestal, were all 
just as dismayed as Lodge was by the president's decision to send McNa- 
mara and Taylor to Vietnam. When Harriman learned about it, he phoned 
Forrestal to say he and Hilsman thought the president's proposal was "a dis- 
aster" because it meant "sending two men opposed to our policy" of pro- 
moting a coup. Forrestal glumly agreed. 50 

But Kennedy had made his decision. The coup that his closest State 
Department advisers on Vietnam and his Saigon ambassador regarded as 
their policy, and that they had manipulated the president into endorsing, was 
not in fact his policy. Nor for that matter was his policy the troop escalation 
to full-scale U.S. intervention that his Joint Chiefs Chairman Maxwell Taylor 

Saigon and Chicago 


had pushed from the beginning, and that his Defense Secretary, McNamara, 
had backed until Kennedy made clear his resistance to it. As would eventu- 
ally become clear, in sending McNamara and Taylor to Vietnam under a 
mandate for withdrawal, Kennedy was steering a course that went between 
and beyond both the coup-makers on his left and the warmakers on his right, 
with the CIA's Richard Helms in both camps. They all had their own poli- 
cies on Vietnam and regarded the president's as a disaster. 

Kennedy responded by return cable to Lodge's objections to the McNamara- 
Taylor visit. He said McNamara and Taylor would definitely be coming, in 
order to carry out a critical mission he had given them. "My need for this 
visit is very great indeed," he said firmly. 51 

The McNamara-Taylor mission was designed by Kennedy to meet his 
"very great need indeed" of not only forestalling the coup that Henry Cabot 
Lodge, Richard Helms, and even the president's more liberal State Depart- 
ment advisers sought. It was also meant to lay the foundation for the begin- 
ning withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam that fall, which only John 
Kennedy sought. 


e have already seen how deeply entwined the CIA had become in the 
infrastructure of the South Vietnamese government. As former Saigon 
station chief William Colby said, by early 1962, "the station had contacts 
and influence throughout Vietnam, from the front and rear doors of the 
Palace, to the rural communities, among the civilian opponents of the regime 
and the commanders of all the key military units." 52 Through its front, the 
Agency for International Development (AID), the CIA had placed advisers in 
at least twenty of the government's forty-one provinces. 53 By the fall of 1963, 
when John Kennedy was trying to extricate the United States from the Viet- 
nam War, the CIA had become heavily invested in continuing the war under 

its own control. 

Even the Pentagon found itself in a supporting role to the CIA's covert 
rule over South Vietnam. The agency's dominance reached back to its instal- 
lation of Diem as Saigon's ruler in 1954. By funding and advising the Saigon 

government's security forces, the CIA was the ultimate power behind the 
throne. The CIA also had operatives in key positions in the U.S. and South 

Vietnamese military. 54 In addition, it was advising tens of thousands of armed 
"Meo" (actually Hmong) tribal members. By its further infiltration of the 

South Vietnamese government, the CIA was virtually running the show in 
1963 — as Diem and his brother Nhu were aware and deeply resented. Their 
alternating dependence on and resistance to the CIA was the undercurrent to 
their sinking ship of state. 

American journalists had begun to break the silence on the CIA's covert 
control of South Vietnam. New York Times columnist Arthur Krock com- 
mented on the CIA's growing notoriety in Saigon. Krock began his Octo- 
ber 3, 1963, column by observing: "The Central Intelligence Agency is 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

getting a very bad press in dispatches from Vietnam to American newspapers 
and in articles originating in Washington." 55 

Krock noted that the CIA in Vietnam was coming under fire "almost 
every day now in dispatches from reporters — in close touch with intra- 
Administration critics of the CIA — with excellent reputations for reliabil- 
ity." 56 His prime example was Richard Starnes of the Scripps-Howard 
newspapers, whose dispatch on the CIA the same day had shocked readers 
of the Washington Daily News. Starnes 's provocative theme was how the 
CIA's "unrestrained thirst for power" in Vietnam had become a threat to its 
own government back in Washington. 57 

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge's response to the CIA's ominous seizure 
of power in Vietnam was to harness that power to his own ambition to over- 
throw Diem. 

On September 13, 1963, Lodge sent a letter to Secretary of State Dean 
Rusk asking him to send longtime CIA operative Edward Lansdale to Saigon 
"at once to take charge, under my supervision, of all U.S. relationships with 
a change of government here." 58 Lodge wanted Lansdale's expertise in 
"changing governments" so as to facilitate, "under my supervision," the 
stalled coup. For Lansdale to be effective, Lodge wrote, he "must have a staff 
and I therefore ask that he be put in charge of the CAS ["Controlled Amer- 
ican Source," meaning the CIA] station in the Embassy, relieving the present 
incumbent, Mr. John Richardson." 59 

Although CIA director McCone denied Lodge's request for Lansdale, 
Richardson, whom Lodge thought too close to Diem, was recalled to Wash- 
ington, just as Lodge wished. The ambassador then became in effect his own 
CIA station chief in Saigon. He could now supervise directly Lucien Conein, 
the CIA's intermediary to the South Vietnamese generals plotting against 
Diem. 60 

Lodge's commitment to engineering a coup against Diem was no prob- 
lem to the CIA's chief of covert operations, Richard Helms, who had the 
same goal. When Helms allied the CIA to the State Department circle pres- 
suring Kennedy for a coup, he told Harriman, "It's about time we bit this bul- 
let." 61 Helms could only welcome Lodge's and the State Department's 
enthusiasm for a coup as additional cover for company business. Whether 
knowingly or not, Henry Cabot Lodge, in his push to carry out a Saigon 
coup that was facilitated by the CIA, was helping to provide the impetus for 
a Washington coup as well. 

ennedy had continued to puzzle over the question: How could he begin 
withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam when practically his entire mili- 
tary command and circle of advisers wanted to expand the war? 

The president knew his key ally in the Pentagon was his loyal civilian 
bureaucrat Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. However, McNamara's 
power on his behalf was hedged in by the noncooperation of the top brass. 

Saigon and Chicago 


McNamara had been stalled by his generals for a full year from getting the 
Vietnam withdrawal plan JFK wanted drawn up. When the Pacific Com- 
mand did finally come up with a plan in May 1963, McNamara had to reject 
its time line as at least a year too slow. 62 After the Defense Secretary ordered 
an expedited plan, the Joint Chiefs balked again. They wrote McNamara on 
August 20 that "until the political and religious tensions now confronting the 
Government of Vietnam have eased," "no US units should be withdrawn 
from the Republic of Vietnam." 63 They now wanted any decision on a with- 
drawal put on hold until late October. 64 

Pushed by his recognition of the war's futility and its rising death toll, 
John Kennedy had waited long enough to begin withdrawing from Vietnam. 
Although pressured by the Pentagon for a bigger war and by the State 
Department for a CIA-aided coup, the president decided to authorize a troop 
withdrawal, while continuing to hold off a coup. He did so through his strat- 
agem of the McNamara-Taylor mission to Vietnam. 

When Robert McNamara and Maxwell Taylor returned from their trip to 
Vietnam on October 2, President Kennedy already knew the recommenda- 
tions of the report they delivered to him. They had originally come from the 
president himself. 

While McNamara and Taylor were gathering information in Vietnam, 
they cabled their data back to General Victor Krulak's Pentagon office. Kru- 
lak's editorial and stenographic team worked twenty-four hours a day to put 
together the fact-finding trip's report. As one of the report's authors, Colonel 
Fletcher Prouty, later revealed, Krulak went regularly to the White House to 
confer confidentially with John and Robert Kennedy. 65 There the president 
and his brother dictated to Krulak the recommendations of the "McNamara- 
Taylor Report." When the secretaries finished typing up the report in Kru- 
lak's office, it was then bound in a leather cover, flown to Hawaii, and placed 
in the hands of McNamara and Taylor on their way back from Vietnam. 
They read the report on their flight to Washington, and presented it to 
Kennedy at the White House on the morning of October 2. 66 JFK accepted 
its recommendations, most significantly one for the withdrawal of one thou- 
sand military personnel from Vietnam by the end of that year. That 1963 
withdrawal, together with Kennedy's plan "to withdraw the bulk of U.S. 
personnel by the end of 1965," became official government policy on Octo- 
ber 11, 1963, in the president's National Security Action Memorandum 
(NSAM) Number 263. 67 

However, the process wasn't easy. Kennedy convened a National Security 
Council (NSC) meeting the evening of October 2 to discuss the McNamara- 
Taylor Report. What ensued was, as McNamara said, "heated debate about 
our recommendation that the Defense Department announce plans to with- 
draw U.S. military forces by the end of 1965, starting with the withdrawal 
of 1,000 men by the end of the year . . . once discussion began, we battled 
over the recommendation." 68 

Not surprisingly, the majority of the NSC members were opposed to the 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

withdrawal. 69 The president himself hesitated over the critical phrase "by 
the end of this year" as a preface to the sentence, "The U.S. program for 
training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 U.S. 
military personnel can be withdrawn." He wavered, saying, "If we are not 
able to take this action by the end of the year, we will be accused of being 
overoptimistic. " 70 

McNamara argued in favor of the time commitment, saying, "It will meet 
the view of Senator Fulbright and others that we are bogged down forever 
in Vietnam. It reveals that we have a withdrawal plan." 71 Kennedy agreed, 
so long as the time limits were presented as a part of the report rather than 
his own predictions. He then bypassed the National Security Council major- 
ity and endorsed the report's withdrawal recommendations that had come 
from himself. He also agreed with McNamara that the withdrawal plan 
should be announced publicly after the meeting to "set it in concrete." 72 As 
McNamara was leaving the room to give the news of the withdrawal to 
White House reporters, Kennedy called out to him, "And tell them that 
means all of the helicopter pilots, too." 73 

Nine days later he signed NSAM 263, thus making official government 
policy the McNamara-Taylor recommendations for the withdrawal of 
"1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963" and "by the end of 1965 
. . . the bulk of U.S. personnel." 74 

Nevertheless, Kennedy still hesitated as to how he was going to justify the 
withdrawal in political terms. Although CIA and military intelligence reports 
from Vietnam continued to be optimistic, the president had seen through to 
the truth, thanks especially to MacArthur, Galbraith, and Mansfield. As he 
told Charles Bartlett, "We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. We 
don't have a prayer of prevailing there." 75 

While he knew the optimistic intelligence reports being used to justify the 
war were wrong, he now used the momentum of those same reports, like a 
judo expert, to justify a withdrawal. 76 Kennedy was no fool when presented 
with disinformation by his intelligence agencies. He had learned from the 
Bay of Pigs. He sensed the intelligence reports from Vietnam might suddenly 
turn sour, now that he had reversed their intention and was using them to jus- 
tify a withdrawal. If they in turn became more realistic, threatening defeat, 
the president needed to turn them around again, using the basis of a new 
argument for escalation as a reason instead for withdrawal. Thus we can 
understand the tension between his agreement with McNamara, that it was 
good to set the withdrawal policy in concrete by a public announcement, 
and his repeated hesitation to do so, because the policy's political justifica- 
tion might have to change according to shifting reports from the battlefield. 

In NSAM 263, he therefore "directed that no formal announcement be 
made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military per- 
sonnel by the end of 1963." 77 Yet as he agreed, the White House had already 
made an announcement on the withdrawal after the meeting on October 2, 
generating front-page headlines in the New York Times and the Armed 

Saigon and Chicago 


Forces newspaper, Pacific Stars and Stripes. 78 Moreover, by signing NSAM 
263, Kennedy had officially ordered the implementation of the withdrawal 
plans. But he sensed that the CIA and the military would now try to cut the 
political ground out from under his withdrawal plans by changing their 
reports from good to bad. Hence his continuing caution on saying what he 
had done, and why, as an election year approached. 

He also needed to finesse his way around his publicly stated opposition to 
a withdrawal he had already been planning. 

On September 2, he had been interviewed by television anchorman Wal- 
ter Cronkite, who said, "Mr. President, the only hot war we've got running 
at the moment is of course the one in Vietnam, and we have our difficulties 
there quite obviously." 

The first part of Kennedy's reply was consistent with his Vietnam policy 
from the beginning. He said: "I don't think that unless a greater effort is 
made by the government to win popular support that the war can be won out 
there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win 
it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our 
men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam, 
against the Communists." 79 

Here was Kennedy's basic assumption all along, that this was the non- 
Communist Vietnamese's war to win or to lose, not the United States'. "In 
the final analysis, it is their war." In October he would use that assumption 
consistently in the logic of NSAM 263 as the basis for a U.S. withdrawal. 

He also said that the war could not be won without important changes 
being made by the Saigon government to win popular support. Neither Diem 
nor his authoritarian successors would allow those changes to be made. That 
political fact could also serve as a reason for withdrawal. 

However, Kennedy did not tell Walter Cronkite what he would tell his 
Hyannis Port neighbor Larry Newman on October 20, nine days after sign- 
ing NSAM 263 for his Vietnam withdrawal: "I'm going to get those guys 
out because we're not going to find ourselves in a war that it's impossible to 


In fact on September 2, while repeating his constant theme that it was 
their war, not ours, Kennedy told Cronkite defensively that he was opposed 
to a withdrawal: "in the final analysis it is the people and the government 
itself who have to win or lose this struggle. All we can do is help, and we are 
making it very clear, but I don't agree with those who say we should with- 
draw. That would be a great mistake." 80 

He went on to distinguish himself from people whom he characterized in 
terms that, if the truth were known, applied, first of all, to himself: "I know 
people don't like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty- 
seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a 
very important struggle even though it is far away." 81 

Kennedy was carrying in his conscience the number of Americans he 
thought had been killed in combat in Vietnam, forty-seven. (The actual num- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

ber was about 170.) 82 It was those American war dead who were the mov- 
ing force behind his decision to withdraw from an increasingly futile war. 

Yet in his interview with Walter Cronkite, he tried to distance himself 
from people who "don't like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an 
effort." He knew he was among them. "This kind of an effort," he had come 
to realize, was an unwinnable war in Southeast Asia with mounting casual- 
ties. His claim that he didn't agree with a withdrawal, and that it would be 
a great mistake, was defensive and deceptive, if not an outright lie. Since the 
previous spring, he had been telling friends that he not only agreed with a 
withdrawal but was planning one. When he spoke with Cronkite, Kennedy 
knew he was headed in that contentious direction, but he was not prepared 
to admit it in advance on national television. 

One week later, in an interview with two other television anchors, Chet 

Huntley and David Brinkley, he again denied the withdrawal policy he was 
plotting: "I think we should stay [in Vietnam]. We should use our influence 
in as effective a way as we can, but we should not withdraw." 83 

By making defensive public statements that contradicted his beliefs and his 
intentions, Kennedy was digging himself into a hole concerning the with- 
drawal he was about to authorize. Once he did make it official by his 
national security memorandum, his withdrawal order would then fall into a 
deeper darkness after his assassination — compromised in execution, covered 
up by the government, and obscured by the record of his own public denials. 
When NSAM 263 was finally declassified three decades later, skeptics could 
question its authenticity by citing JFK's public statements opposing a with- 
drawal, made only one month before he signed one into national security 

Even when he had implemented a withdrawal policy by NSAM 263, he 
still hesitated as to how to justify it politically during the final weeks of his 
life. He was wary lest the withdrawal order be taken, in the context of the 
Buddhist crisis, as only a form of pressure against Diem. He continued to 
assess the uncertain direction of battlefield reports, whether positive or neg- 
ative. For short-range political reasons, he delayed identifying himself pub- 
licly — until it was too late to do so — with the historic order he had signed 
withdrawing U.S. soldiers from Vietnam. 

ennedy's mistaken judgment in appointing Lodge his ambassador began 
his downward path toward a Saigon coup. Once the president was 
manipulated by his advisers into approving the August 24 telegram, he never 
succeeded in reversing a policy that favored a coup, reinforced by an ambas- 
sador determined to have one. Lodge was methodical in pursuing his goal. 
On September 14, Lodge invited his old friend, influential journalist 
Joseph Alsop, to dinner in Saigon. Lodge then became the unacknowledged 
source for Alsop's sensational column, "Very Ugly Stuff," which appeared in 
the September 18 Washington Post and other newspapers. 84 Alsop's thesis 

Saigon and Chicago 


was that Ngo Dinh Nhu was being seriously tempted by North Vietnamese 
representatives "to open negotiations [for a ceasefire] behind the backs of 
the Americans," as Nhu himself put it in an interview with Alsop. Nhu was 
quick to add, "That was out of the question." 85 However, Alsop's column left 
the impression that a Saigon-Hanoi truce was a distinct possibility, on the 
condition that the Ngo brothers would first expel the United States from 
South Vietnam. 

Alsop's column had a germ of truth in it, as revealed years later by 
Mieczyslaw Maneli, a Polish diplomat who served as an intermediary 
between the North and South governments. The contacts between Saigon 
and Hanoi were only tentative and indirect. 86 Nhu deliberately spread rumors 
about them in order to threaten the U.S. government. His tactic backfired 
when Alsop, at Lodge's encouragement, used the Nhu-inspired rumors to 
write "Very Ugly Stuff." As Lodge knew, Alsop's column was certain to build 
up the pressure in Washington for a coup against Diem and Nhu. In the con- 
text of the Cold War, it was indeed considered "very ugly stuff" that our 
anti-communist rulers, put in power by the United States, now seemed will- 
ing to become traitors to the cause. 

The CIA knew the conspiring South Vietnamese generals were already 
being pushed toward a coup by their suspicions of a Saigon-Hanoi connec- 
tion. General Tran Thien Khiem told the CIA in Saigon that "the Generals 
would under no condition go along with Nhu should he make any step 
toward the North or even toward neutralization a la Laos." 87 The generals 
and the CIA knew that "neutralization a la Laos" had been accomplished in 
Laos itself by President John F. Kennedy. The generals were reassuring their 
CIA allies that Nhu's moves, toward the kind of peace Kennedy had already 
made with the Communists in Laos, would prompt a coup in South Viet- 

On September 19, Lodge sent a telegram to Kennedy rejecting once again 
the president's suggestion that the ambassador "resume dialogue" with Diem 
and Nhu 88 (a dialogue never really begun). Lodge told Kennedy that such a 
dialogue was hopeless: "Frankly, I see no opportunity at all for substantive 
changes." He continued to think his silence was better than dialogue: "There 
are signs that Diem-Nhu are somewhat bothered by my silence." 89 

By this time, Kennedy had realized that he could not rely on his newly 
appointed ambassador to carry out his wishes. Thus he chose to send 
McNamara and Taylor, two coup opponents, to Vietnam to assess the situ- 
ation and meet with Diem. The McNamara-Taylor mission stalled the for- 
ward progress of Lodge's coup-making with the CIA and the generals. 
However, the president's purpose was being undermined at the same time by 
a letter sent surreptitiously to Lodge by Roger Hilsman, principal author of 

the August 24 telegram. Hilsman's letter of September 23 was delivered to 
Lodge in Saigon by a member of the McNamara-Taylor mission, Michael 

Forrestal, who was Kennedy's aide but Hilsman's ally. 

Noting that he was "taking advantage of Mike Forrestal's safe hands" to 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

deliver his letter, Hilsman wrote Lodge: "I have the feeling that more and 
more of the town is coming around to our view [for a coup against Diem] 
and that if you in Saigon and we in the [State] Department stick to our guns 
the rest will also come around. As Mike will tell you, a determined group 
here will back you all the way." 90 

Hilsman's secret message spurring on Lodge subverted Kennedy's pur- 
pose. The back-channel letter demonstrated just how isolated Kennedy had 
become. Even his aide for the Far East, Forrestal, and his point man on Viet- 
nam, Hilsman, were encouraging Lodge behind the president's back to 
launch a coup against Diem. 

ennedy was losing control of his government. In early September, he dis- 
covered that another key decision related to a coup had been made with- 
out his knowledge. 

A White House meeting with the president was discussing whether or not 
to cut off the Commodity Import Program that propped up South Vietnam's 
economy. It was a far-reaching decision. For the United States to withdraw 
the AID program could prompt a coup against Diem. 

David Bell, head of AID, made a casual comment that stopped the dis- 
cussion. He said, "There's no point in talking about cutting off commodity 
aid. I've already cut it off. " 

"You've done what?" said John Kennedy. 
"Cut off commodity aid," said Bell. 
"Who the hell told you to do that?" asked the president. 
"No one," said Bell. "It's an automatic policy. We do it whenever we have 
differences with a client government." 
Kennedy shook his head in dismay. 

"My God, do you know what you've done?" said the president. 91 
He was staring at David Bell, but seeing a deeper reality. Kennedy knew 
Bell's agency, AID, functioned as a CIA front. AID administrator David Bell 
would not have carried out his "automatic" cutoff without CIA approval. 
"We do it whenever we have differences with a client government" could 
serve as a statement of CIA policy. By cutting South Vietnam's purse strings, 
the CIA was sending a message to its upstart client ruler, Diem, as well as to 
the plotting generals waiting in the wings for such a signal. Most of all, the 
message was meant for the man staring at David Bell in disbelief. He was 
being told who was in control. It was not the president. 

y having AID cut off the Commodity Import Program, the CIA had made 
it almost impossible for Kennedy to avoid a coup in South Vietnam. The 
aid cutoff was a designated signal for a coup. In late August, the CIA had 
agreed with the plotting South Vietnamese generals that just such a cut in 
economic aid would be the U.S. government's green light to the generals for 
a coup. 

Saigon and Chicago 


The critical meeting is described in Ellen Hammer's book on the coup, A 

Death in November. On August 29 at a top-secret meeting in Vietnam 

approved by Lodge, the CIA's Lucien Conein had asked coup leader General 
Duong Van Minh point-blank, "What would you consider a sign that the 

American government does indeed intend to support you generals in a 

Minh answered, "Let the United States suspend economic aid to the Diem 
government." 92 

It was twelve days later when David Bell told Kennedy at the White House 
that he had in fact already cut off commodity aid to Diem. The CIA had 
thereby sent a signal to the generals to prepare a coup. The aid cutoff was the 
official confirmation that the U.S. government supported the generals' plot. 

The generals certainly understood it that way. "At least six of the generals 
who masterminded the revolt," journalist Marguerite Higgins wrote, "told 
me and others that the reduction in U.S. assistance was the decisive event that 
persuaded them to proceed with plans to overthrow the Diem regime. " 93 

General Minh said, "The aid cuts erased all our doubts." 94 

General Tran Thien Khiem, the army chief of staff, said, "We looked on 
this U.S. decision on aid as a signal from Washington that the Vietnamese 
military had to choose between the Americans and Diem." 95 

Given the accomplished fact of the aid cutoff, Kennedy was left with the 
choice of either relieving that economic pressure on Diem, which would be 
taken as Kennedy's consent to Diem's repression of the Buddhists, or allow- 
ing the suspension of aid to take its gradual toll on the South Vietnamese 
economy and government — thus proceeding step by step toward a coup. 

Through the McNamara-Taylor Report, Kennedy tried to find a way out 
of the coup box in which he'd been placed. He approved McNamara's and 
Taylor's recommendation of a middle way between an unconditional recon- 
ciliation with an unchanged Diem, on the one hand, and the active promo- 
tion of a coup, on the other. The theoretical middle way, endorsed by 
Kennedy, was to apply only selective pressures, with "the resumption of the 
full program of economic and military aid" to be "tied to the actions of the 
Diem government." 96 However, the more moderate policy the president was 
trying to choose had been largely superseded by the CIA's suspension of the 
Commodity Import Program, as a signal to the generals, and by Lodge's own 
active promotion of a coup. 

JFK's slender hope was that the gradual impact of the aid cutoff, com- 
bined with a genuine effort at dialogue with Diem, could still persuade Diem 
to lift his repression of the Buddhists in time to avoid a coup. The moment 
even seemed ripe for a change in Diem, who surprised his critics by deciding 
to invite a United Nations fact-finding mission to South Vietnam to investi- 
gate the Buddhist crisis. 

At an October 5 White House meeting, Kennedy emphasized the openness 
with which he wanted Ambassador Lodge to negotiate with Diem: 

"We should not consider the political recommendations [to Diem] to be 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

in the nature of a hard and fast list of demands, and that this point should 
be made more clear in the draft instructions [to Lodge]. The most likely and 
desirable result of any U.S. pressures would be to bring Diem to talk seriously 
to Lodge about the whole range of issues between us." 97 

Kennedy then directed Lodge in a cable the same day to "maintain suffi- 
cient flexibility to permit US to resume full support of Diem regime at any 
time US government deems it appropriate." 98 The president added the stip- 
ulation: "we do not now wish to prejudge question of balance or quantity 
of actions which may justify resumption of full cooperation with [the Gov- 
ernment of Vietnam]." 99 Kennedy would make that judgment himself. He 
did not want Lodge to confront the South Vietnamese ruler with "a hard 
and fast list of demands," as the ambassador was prone to do. 

Recognizing that Lodge was as much of a challenge as Diem, Kennedy 
conceded to his stubborn ambassador the unbudging position of silence he 

had staked out but expressed the hope Lodge would be ready to communi- 
cate with Diem when necessary: 

"Your policy toward the [Government of Vietnam] of cool correctness in 
order to make Diem come to you is correct. You should continue it. How- 
ever, we realize it may not work and that at some later time you may have 
to go to Diem to ensure he understands over-all US policy." 100 

Kennedy's instructions to Lodge, wired through Secretary of State Dean 
Rusk, recognized that Diem's brother and sister-in-law were the primary 
obstacles to reform in the South Vietnamese government. Any specific 
reforms were "apt to have little impact without dramatic symbolic move 
which convinces Vietnamese that reforms are real. As practical matter this 
can only be achieved by some feasible reduction in influence of Nhus, who 
are — justifiably or not — a symbol of authoritarianism." 

Lodge responded to the president's instructions with objections. He wired 
back to Rusk that "'restriction on role of Nhus' seems unrealistic ... we 
cannot remove the Nhus by nonviolent means against their will." 101 

The ambassador saw absolutely no hope of negotiating a resolution of 
the political crisis with Diem: "the only thing which the U.S. really wants 
the removal of or restriction on the Nhus — is out of the question." 102 

However, there was in fact something more fundamental that most of the 
U.S. government, and Lodge in particular, wanted from Diem. Lodge devoted 
the bulk of his October 7 telegram to documenting the most basic reason 
why he thought Diem and his dominant brother had in any case to be 
removed from power. It was not the Buddhist crisis but something more wor- 
risome: "Nhu says in effect that he can and would like to get along without 
the Americans. He only wants some helicopter units and some money. But 
he definitely does not want American military personnel who, he says, are 
absolutely incapable of fighting a guerrilla war." 103 

The bottom line for Lodge was that Diem and Nhu were dangerously 
close to doing what they had been threatening to do for months — asking the 
U.S. government to withdraw its forces from Vietnam. 

Saigon and Chicago 


Lodge concluded his rebuttal to Kennedy by making an ominous connec- 
tion between a withdrawal request and a coup: "we should consider a request 
to withdraw as a growing possibility. The beginning of withdrawal might 
trigger off a coup." 104 

Lodge had Kennedy in a corner. At the very moment when Kennedy was 
quietly ordering the beginning of his own U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, 

Lodge was warning him that the request for a withdrawal by Diem and Nhu 
could trigger a coup in Saigon that Lodge was facilitating. 

Only five days before Lodge's telegram, Washington Daily News reporter 
Richard Starnes's alarming article on the CIA's "unrestrained thirst for 
power" in Vietnam had appeared. Starnes had cited a "very high American 
official" in Saigon who "likened the CIA's growth to a malignancy, and added 
he was not sure even the White House could control it any longer." 105 Pres- 
ident Kennedy had read Starnes's article closely. He was so disturbed by it 
that he brought it up in the October 2 meeting of the National Security Coun- 
cil, asking the NSC members, "What should we say [in a public statement] 
about the news story attacking CIA which appeared in today's Washington 
Daily News}" 106 Kennedy decided to say nothing about the article, 107 but it 
had shaken him. Starnes had also cited an unnamed U.S. official who spoke 
of a possible CIA coup in Washington. The official had said prophetically, the 
month before John Kennedy's assassination, "If the United States ever expe- 
riences a Seven Days in May [the novel envisioning a military takeover of the 
U.S. government], it will come from the CIA, and not the Pentagon." 108 In 
the light of Lodge's telegram five days later, the president may have won- 
dered if Starnes's unnamed U.S. official in Saigon who gave that warning 
was Henry Cabot Lodge. 

Did Lodge's cable warning Kennedy that the beginning of a U.S. with- 
drawal might trigger a Saigon coup carry overtones of a Washington coup as 

n his efforts to gain control of his own government on a Vietnam policy, 
Kennedy found himself in another struggle with the Central Intelligence 
Agency. When he was checkmated by a CIA front, AID, Kennedy was expe- 
riencing one effect of the way in which the CIA had established its invisible 
control over Vietnam. In that particular case, Kennedy could see what was 
going on. He knew AID was a CIA front. 

However, there were other, less-visible CIA fronts. Richard Starnes had 
revealed further examples of the CIA's takeover in Vietnam in the article JFK 

had read. From the president's raising the article to the National Security 
Council, we know how seriously he took Starnes's following description of 
the CIA in Vietnam: 

"CIA 'spooks' (a universal term for secret agents here) have penetrated 
every branch of the American community in Saigon, until non-spook Amer- 
icans here almost seem to be suffering a CIA psychosis. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

"An American field officer with a distinguished combat career speaks 
angrily about 'that man at headquarters in Saigon wearing a colonel's uni- 
form.' He means the man is a CIA agent, and he can't understand what he 
is doing at U.S. military headquarters here, unless it is spying on other Amer- 
icans . . . 

"Few people other than [Saigon station chief John] Richardson and his 
close aides know the actual CIA strength here, but a widely used figure is 
600. Many are clandestine agents known only to a few of their fellow 
spooks . . . 

"'There are spooks in the U.S. Information Service, in the U.S. Opera- 
tions mission, in every aspect of American official and commercial life here,' 
one official — presumably a non-spook — said. 

'"They represent a tremendous power and total unaccountability to any- 
one,' he added." 109 

How had the CIA managed to place undercover agents in every branch of 
the American government in Saigon by the fall of 1963? 

The answer opens a door to understanding the murder of John F. Kennedy, 
because the process whereby the CIA took over Vietnam was part of a 
broader problem JFK faced in Washington. While the president struggled to 
push his newly found politics of peace past the anti-communist priorities of 
the CIA, that creature from the depths of the Cold War kept sprouting new 
arms to stop him. As in Vietnam, the CIA had agents operating in other 

branches of the government. Those extended arms of the agency acted to 
forward its policies and frustrate Kennedy's, as in the case of AID's suspen- 
sion of the Commodity Import Program, thereby setting up a coup. J. Edgar 
Hoover knew the CIA had infiltrated the FBI's decision making as well, mak- 
ing it possible for the CIA to cancel the FBI's FLASH on Oswald at a criti- 
cal moment in October, setting up the assassination of Kennedy. How had the 

CIA's covert arms been grafted onto these other parts of the government? 

One man in a position to watch the arms of the CIA proliferate was 
Colonel Fletcher Prouty. He ran the office that did the proliferating. In 1955, 
Air Force Headquarters ordered Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, a career Army 
and Air Force officer since World War II, to set up a Pentagon office to pro- 
vide military support for the clandestine operations of the CIA. Thus Prouty 
became director of the Pentagon's "Focal Point Office for the CIA." 110 

CIA Director Allen Dulles was its actual creator. In the fifties, Dulles 
needed military support for his covert campaigns to undermine opposing 
nations in the Cold War. Moreover, Dulles wanted subterranean secrecy and 
autonomy for his projects, even from the members of his own government. 
Prouty's job was to provide Pentagon support and deep cover for the CIA 
beneath the different branches of Washington's bureaucracy. Dulles dictated 
the method Prouty was to follow. 

"I want a focal point," Dulles said. "I want an office that's cleared to do 
what we have to have done; an office that knows us very, very well and then 
an office that has access to a system in the Pentagon. But the system will not 

Saigon and Chicago 


be aware of what initiated the request — they'll think it came from the Sec- 
retary of Defense. They won't realize it came from the Director of Central 
Intelligence." 111 

Dulles got Prouty to create a network of subordinate focal point offices in 
the armed services, then throughout the entire U.S. government. Each office 
that Prouty set up was put under a "cleared" CIA employee. That person 
took orders directly from the CIA but functioned under the cover of his par- 
ticular office and branch of government. Such "breeding," Prouty said 
decades later in an interview, resulted in a web of covert CIA representatives 
"in the State Department, in the FA A, in the Customs Service, in the Treas- 
ury, in the FBI and all around through the government — up in the White 
House . . . Then we began to assign people there who, those agencies 
thought, were from the Defense Department. But they actually were people 
that we put there from the CIA." 112 

The consequence in the early 1960s, when Kennedy became president, 
was that the CIA had placed a secret team of its own employees through the 
entire U.S. government. It was accountable to no one except the CIA, headed 
by Allen Dulles. After Dulles was fired by Kennedy, the CIA's Deputy Direc- 
tor of Plans Richard Helms became this invisible government's immediate 
commander. No one except a tight inner circle of the CIA even knew of the 
existence of this top-secret intelligence network, much less the identity of its 
deep-cover bureaucrats. These CIA "focal points," as Dulles called them, 
constituted a powerful, unseen government within the government. Its 
Dulles-appointed members would act quickly, with total obedience, when 
called on by the CIA to assist its covert operations. 

As the son of an ambassador to Britain and from his many years in the 
House and Senate, John Kennedy had come to understand the kind of power 
he would face as a changing president, trying to march to the beat of a dif- 
ferent drummer. However, in his struggles with the CIA, Kennedy had no 
one to tell him just how extensive the agency's Cold War power had become 
beneath the surface of the U.S. government, including almost certainly mem- 
bers of his own White House staff. In his final months, JFK knew he was 
being blocked by an enemy within. However, he was surrounded by more 
representatives of that enemy than he could have known. 

n October 24, coup plotter General Tran Van Don informed Lucien 
Conein that the Saigon coup was imminent. It would take place no later 
than November 2. 113 Conein and the CIA passed the word to Lodge, and 
Lodge to the State Department. 

On the same day, the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission to South Viet- 
nam was welcomed to Saigon by President Ngo Dinh Diem for its investi- 
gation into the Buddhist crisis. 114 The UN Mission would still be in Vietnam 
collecting information at the time of Diem's assassination the following 
week. 115 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Also on October 24, President Diem invited Ambassador Lodge to spend 
the day with him three days later. Apparently Diem wanted to talk. Lodge 
accepted the invitation. 116 

The State Department in a telegram encouraged Lodge in his upcoming 
dialogue with Diem: "Diem's invitation to you may mean that he has finally 
decided to come to you ... As you know, we wish to miss no opportunity 
to test prospect of constructive changes by Diem." 117 

Lodge's October 27 talk with Diem turned into another confrontation. 
Lodge reported back to Dean Rusk what he had told the South Vietnamese 
president on behalf of the United States: "We do not wish to be put in the 
extremely embarrassing position of condoning totalitarian acts which are 

against our traditions and ideals." 118 

"Repeatedly," Lodge reported, "I asked him, 'What do you propose to 
do for us?' His reply several times was either a blank stare or change of sub- 
ject or the statement: 'je ne vais pas servir' which makes no sense. He must 
have meant to say 'ceder' rather than 'servir', meaning: 'I will not give in.' 
He warned that the Vietnamese people were strange people and could do 
odd things if they were resentful." 119 

Lodge was fluent in French. Diem's repeated statement, "Je ne vais pas 
servir," "I will not serve," made no sense to Lodge not because he didn't 
understand the language but because he didn't understand Diem. From 
Diem's point of view, he was refusing in principle to serve American inter- 
ests — what he thought the patrician American statesman, Henry Cabot 
Lodge, was ordering him to do. To Lodge's incessant question, "What do 
you propose to do for us?" Diem's very genuine response was: "I will not 
serve." He was not going to bow and scrape in front of the Americans. 

Lodge was convinced that Diem was "simply unbelievably stubborn," as 
he told Rusk earlier in his report. Lodge was like a Southern landowner dis- 
missing a nonconforming black sharecropper as "stubborn." So Lodge 
thought Diem must have meant to say, "I will not give in," rather than "I will 
not serve." Stubbornness, not principle, was what Lodge was prepared to 
deal with in terms of the "chicken" metaphor, or head-on crash scenario, 
that he was following in his strategy toward Diem. He thought the United 
States' client ruler was being "simply, unbelievably stubborn" in not back- 
ing down from "totalitarian acts which are against our traditions and ideals." 

Yet Diem was in fact preparing to back away from just such acts, as shown 
by his government's surprising reception of the UN Fact-Finding Mission. 
Nevertheless, he refused to serve unconditionally the imperial interests of 
the government Lodge represented. He might even kick it out of Vietnam, as 
Lodge feared. Diem was refusing to be a Vietnamese servant obedient to 
Lodge's wishes. That is why he told Lodge that the Vietnamese people could 
do odd things if they were resentful (an attitude Diem had increasingly in 
common with Ho Chi Minh) — which Lodge again failed to understand. He 
thought Diem could only have meant all along that he would not give in, 
not that there was something deeper at stake. 

Saigon and Chicago 


Even in Lodge's own description of their conversation, it was Diem who 
spoke more to the point. Diem said bluntly, "The CIA is intriguing against 
the Government of Vietnam." 

Lodge, who was directing the CIA's communications with the generals 
plotting against Diem, said in response (presumably with a straight face): 
"Give me proof of improper action by any employee of the U.S. Govern- 
ment and I will see that he leaves Vietnam." 120 

Lodge concluded, in his report to Rusk, that the conversation with Diem, 
taken by itself, "does not offer much hope that [his viewpoint] is going to 
change." 121 

Nor, more momentously, did the conversation offer much hope that Lodge 
was going to change his viewpoint on Diem. That would have required a 
radical change of heart for Lodge. For the coup he had striven to bring into 
being was now about to begin. 

n Wednesday, October 30, the four generals who were plotting together, 
Minh, Don, Dinh, and Khiem, met secretly at a private club in Cholon, 
Saigon's Chinese quarter. The generals then made their final decision to go 
ahead with the coup against Diem that would begin two days later. 122 

Also on October 30, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge wired the State 
Department that, contrary to what President Kennedy was saying, Lodge did 
"not think we have the power to delay or discourage a coup. [General] Don 
has made it clear many times that this is a Vietnamese affair. It is theoreti- 
cally possible for us to turn over the information which has been given to us 
in confidence to Diem and this would undoubtedly stop the coup and would 
make traitors out of us." 123 For Lodge to imagine his becoming "a traitor" 
only to the coup leaders, and not Diem, he apparently had become already 
in his mind an ambassador to the generals. 

Lodge was explicitly rejecting Kennedy's statement at a White House 
meeting the day before: "We can discourage a coup in ways other than telling 
Diem of the rebel Generals' plans. What we say to the coup Generals can be 
crucial short of revealing their plans to Diem." 124 Bundy wired Kennedy's 
position to Lodge. 125 Kennedy was insisting on his prerogative to block a 
coup by intervening with the generals. Lodge, as the man who would have 
to do the intervening, was claiming it would be futile to try. Yet only two days 
before, Lodge reported that General Don had sought him out at the Saigon 
airport to get confirmation that the CIA's Lucien Conein "was authorized to 
speak for me [and the U.S. government]." 126 The nervous generals needed 
last-minute reassurance that the United States would not thwart them — as 
Kennedy was telling Lodge he still might do, in spite of Lodge's counterar- 
guments that it couldn't be done. 

The generals were also acutely aware that Kennedy had already commit- 
ted himself to a total withdrawal from Vietnam by the end of 1965. They 
were even using JFK's withdrawal order as a reason for their coup. Lodge 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

reported that General Don "stated flatly [at the airport] the only way to win 
before the Americans leave in 1965 was to change the present regime." 127 

On a more practical note, Lodge told the State Department: "As to 
requests from the Generals, they may well have need of funds at the last 
moment with which to buy off potential opposition. To the extent that these 
funds can be passed discreetly, I believe we should furnish them . . ," 128 

t the same time as the generals were confirming their plot in Saigon, the 
FBI was discovering a plot to assassinate President Kennedy in Chicago 
three days later — within hours of the time Diem would be assassinated. 

On Wednesday, October 30, the agents at the Chicago Secret Service office 
were told of the Chicago plot by Special Agent in Charge Maurice Mar- 
tineau. Abraham Bolden was one of the agents present. Bolden had left the 
White House detail voluntarily two years before in protest against the poor 
security being given the president. Bolden would now suffer for bearing wit- 
ness to the Chicago plot against Kennedy. 

I know former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden. Between 1998 and 
2004, I interviewed him on seven distinct visits to his South Side Chicago 
home. 129 I hope my brief narration can do justice to the story of Abraham 
Bolden — and of his wife, Barbara Louise Bolden, who at the age of seventy 
died at home from an asthma attack on December 27, 2005. 130 With the help 
of their faith, the love of their family and friends, and the writings of a few 
supportive researchers, Abraham and Barbara Bolden survived truthfully for 
decades the retaliation of a systemic evil that goes beyond the imagination 
of most Americans. 131 

Special Agent in Charge Martineau's startling announcement to his 
Chicago Secret Service agents about a plot against Kennedy came in the con- 
text of their preparations for the president's arrival at O'Hare Airport three 
days later on Saturday, November 2, at 11:40 A.M. 132 On Saturday afternoon, 

JFK was scheduled to attend the Army-Air Force football game at Soldier 
Field. At 9:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, Martineau told the agents the FBI 
had learned from an informant that four snipers planned to shoot Kennedy 
with high-powered rifles. Their ambush was set to happen along the route of 
the presidential motorcade, as it came in from O'Hare down the Northwest 
Expressway and into the Loop on Saturday morning. 133 

The FBI had said "the suspects were rightwing para-military fanatics." 
The assassination "would probably be attempted at one of the Northwest 
Expressway overpasses." They knew this from an informant named "Lee." 134 
Who was the informant named "Lee"? Could it have been Lee Harvey 
Oswald? We will return to that question. 

The following day, the landlady at a boarding house on the North Side 
independently provided further information. Four men were renting rooms 
from her. She had seen four rifles with telescopic sights in one of the men's 
rooms, together with a newspaper sketch of the president's route. She phoned 
the FBI. 135 

Saigon and Chicago 


The FBI told Martineau everything was now up to the Secret Service. 
James Rowley, head of the Secret Service in Washington, confirmed to Mar- 
tineau that J. Edgar Hoover had passed the buck. It was the Secret Service's 
jurisdiction. The FBI would do nothing to investigate or stop the plot against 
Kennedy. 136 

Martineau set up a twenty-four-hour surveillance of the men's boarding 
house. He passed out to his agents four photos of the men allegedly involved 
in the plot. 137 The stakeout reached a quick climax on Thursday night, Octo- 
ber 31, at the same time as halfway around the world rebel tanks and troops 
were preparing to move through the streets of Saigon toward the presiden- 
tial palace. 

In Chicago, Secret Service agent J. Lloyd Stocks in his car spotted two of 
the suspects driving. Stocks followed them. When the men drove into an 
alley behind their rooming house, Stocks did, too. He discovered too late 
that the alley was a dead end. The men had turned their car around and were 
on their way back out. They squeezed past Stocks's car at an unfortunate 
moment for the agent — just as his car radio blared out a message from Mar- 
tineau. 138 The startled men looked his way, then drove off quickly. Stocks 
reported back to Martineau with chagrin that he'd blown the surveillance. 139 

Martineau ordered that the two men be taken into custody immediately. 
They were seized and brought to the Secret Service headquarters early Fri- 
day morning. Through the early morning hours, J. Lloyd Stocks questioned 
one of the two men, while his fellow agent Robert Motto questioned the 
other. The two suspects, who have remained anonymous to this day, 
stonewalled the questions. 140 In the meantime, their two reported collabora- 
tors remained at large. President Kennedy was due to arrive the next day for 
his motorcade through the streets of Chicago. 

n Saigon on Friday morning, November 1, Ambassador Lodge and Admi- 
ral Harry Felt, Commander in Chief of the Pacific, met with President 

Diem, as rebel troops were gathering outside the city. Lodge noticed that 
Diem spoke to them "with unusual directness." 141 Lodge did not reciprocate 
the directness. 

Felt took note of a particular exchange between Diem and Lodge (that 
could be seen in retrospect as having happened three hours before the coup 

Diem said, "I know there is going to be a coup, but I don't know who is 
going to do it." 

Lodge not only knew there was going to be a coup but also who was going 
to do it. He reassured Diem by saying, "I don't think there is anything to 
worry about." 142 

When Felt had departed, Diem spoke with Lodge for another fifteen min- 
utes. Diem had asked Lodge in advance to spend this time alone with him. 
After Lodge heard Diem once again make a series of charges against the 
United States, the ambassador got up to go. This was the last moment for 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Diem to speak his mind. He knew that a coup was imminent (that he hoped 
to survive). He also knew Lodge was scheduled to leave that weekend on a 
trip to Washington to consult with President Kennedy. As Lodge stood up, 
Diem spoke up: 

"Please tell President Kennedy that I am a good and a frank ally, that I 
would rather be frank and settle questions now than talk about them after 
we have lost everything." 

In his report to the State Department, Lodge added here parenthetically, 
"This looked like a reference to a possible coup," then continued quoting 
Diem's parting words to him: 

"Tell President Kennedy that I take all his suggestions very seriously and 
wish to carry them out but it is a question of timing." 143 

This was the response from Diem that Kennedy had been waiting for, and 
Lodge recognized it. In his comment on Diem's statement, Lodge cabled: "If 
U.S. wants to make a package deal, I would think we were in a position to 
do it. The conditions of my return [to Washington] could be propitious for 
it. In effect he said: Tell us what you want and we'll do it." 144 

A milestone had been reached. Diem had finally responded to Kennedy in 
a hopeful way through a reluctant ambassador, and Lodge had conveyed the 
message to Washington with a supportive comment. 

However, Lodge buried Diem's message to Kennedy near the end of his 
report. Moreover, he did not send the report on his breakthrough conversa- 
tion with Diem until 3:00 P.M., an hour and a half after the coup had started. 
He also chose to send this critical cable by the slowest possible process rather 
than "Critical Flash," which would have given it immediate attention in 
Washington. As a result of Lodge's slow writing and transmission of Diem's 
urgent message to Kennedy, it did not arrive at the State Department until 
hours after the rebel generals had laid siege to the presidential palace. 145 It 
was too late. 

f President Kennedy had been assassinated in Chicago on November 2 
rather than Dallas on November 22, Lee Harvey Oswald would probably 
be unknown to us today. Instead Thomas Arthur Vallee would have likely 
become notorious as the president's presumed assassin. For in the Chicago 
plot to kill Kennedy, Thomas Arthur Vallee was chosen for the same scape- 
goat role that Lee Harvey Oswald would play three weeks later in Dallas. 

While most of the Chicago Secret Service agents were scrambling to locate 
and arrest all four members of the sniper team before the president's Satur- 
day, November 2, arrival, two agents were acting on another threat. The 
Secret Service office had also received a tip that Thomas Arthur Vallee, an 
alienated ex-Marine, had threatened to kill Kennedy in Chicago. 

Thomas Arthur Vallee was quickly identified from intelligence sources as 
an ex-Marine who was a "disaffiliated member of the John Birch Society," 146 
a far right organization obsessed with Communist subversion in the United 

Saigon and Chicago 


States. Vallee was also described as a loner, a paranoid schizophrenic, and a 
gun collector. He fit perfectly the "lone nut" profile that would later be used 
to characterize ex-Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. 

The two Secret Service agents surveilling Vallee broke into his rented 
North Side room in his absence. They found an M-l rifle, a carbine rifle, and 
twenty-five hundred rounds of ammunition. The agents had seen enough. 
On Friday, November 1, they phoned Chicago Police Department captain 
Robert Linsky, requesting twenty-four-hour surveillance on Vallee and 

reportedly asking that he be "gotten off the street." 147 

Two experienced Chicago police officers, Daniel Groth and Peter Schurla, 
were assigned the task. After watching Vallee for hours, Groth and Schurla 
arrested him on Saturday, November 2, at 9:10 A.M., two and a half hours 
before JFK was due in at O'Hare Airport. They stopped Vallee's car at the 
corner of West Wilson and North Damen Avenues, as Vallee was turning 
south toward the president's motorcade route. The pretense for the arrest 
was an improper turn signal. When the police officers found a hunting knife 
lying on Vallee's front seat, they also charged him with carrying a concealed 
weapon. 148 More significantly, in Vallee's trunk they found three hundred 
rounds of ammunition. 149 

Groth and Schurla first took Vallee to Secret Service headquarters. There 
he was questioned by Special Agent in Charge Maurice Martineau behind 
closed doors in his office. The police then took Vallee to a Chicago jail. 150 
They had succeeded in "getting him off the street" before JFK's visit to 
Chicago. But as they may have known already from intelligence sources, 
Vallee was no isolated threat but a pawn being moved in a much larger game. 

A first clue to Thomas Arthur Vallee's connections with intelligence agen- 
cies was the New York license plate on the 1962 Ford Falcon he was driv- 
ing: 31-10RF. 151 A few days after President Kennedy's assassination, NBC 
News in Chicago learned about Vallee's arrest on the same day President 
Kennedy had been scheduled to come to Chicago. Luke Christopher Hester, 
an NBC Chicago employee, asked his father-in-law, Hugh Larkin, a retired 
New York City police officer, to check on Vallee's license plate. Larkin asked 
his old friends in the New York Police Department if they would run a back- 
ground check on it. They came back to Larkin saying the license plate infor- 
mation was "frozen," and that "only the FBI could obtain this 
information." 152 NBC News got no further. The registration for the license 
plate on the car Thomas Arthur Vallee was driving at the time of his arrest 
was classified — restricted to U.S. intelligence agencies. 

The two Chicago police officers who arrested Vallee, Daniel Groth and 
Peter Schurla, were themselves destined for prominent roles in police intelli- 
gence activities. In 1975 when a reporter tried unsuccessfully to interview 
Peter Schurla about Vallee's arrest, Schurla was a high-level intelligence offi- 
cial at Chicago police headquarters. 153 His companion Daniel Groth's career 
in intelligence had by then become more public and more notorious than 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

At 4:30 A.M. on December 4, 1969, six years after the arrest of Thomas 
Arthur Vallee, Sergeant Daniel Groth commanded the police team that broke 
into the Chicago apartment of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and 
Mark Clark. The heavily armed officers shot both men to death. 154 In 1983 
the Black Panther survivors of the raid and the families of Hampton and 
Clark were awarded $1.85 million in a lawsuit against federal, state, and 
Chicago officials and officers including Daniel Groth. 155 Groth acknowledged 
under oath that his team of officers had carried out the assault on Fred 
Hampton and Mark Clark at the specific request of the FBI. 156 

Northeastern Illinois University professor Dan Stern researched Daniel 
Groth's background. He discovered that Groth had taken several lengthy 
"training leaves" from the Chicago Police Department to Washington, D.C., 
where Stern and other researchers believed Groth "underwent specialized 
counterintelligence training under the auspices of both the FBI and the 
CIA." 157 According to Stern, "Groth never had a normal [Chicago] police 
assignment, but was deployed all along in a counterintelligence capacity," 
with an early focus on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. 158 From his 
research Stern concluded that "the CIA and the Chicago police were very 
tight," and that while technically a member of the Chicago police, Daniel 
Groth probably worked under cover for the CIA. 159 When a journalist con- 
fronted Groth and asked him point-blank, "Are you CIA?" Groth just 
shrugged it off. 160 

If Vallee was arrested by police intelligence officers, one of whom proba- 
bly worked for the CIA, what was the background of Thomas Arthur Vallee 

To learn more about Vallee's past, in late summer 2004 I talked with his 
sister, Mary Vallee-Portillo, a nurse in Chicago. She reminisced with me about 
her older brother, who had died sixteen years earlier. She referred to him 
fondly as "Tommy." Reflecting on his arrest as a potential assassin to Presi- 
dent Kennedy, she said, "My brother probably was set up. He was very much 
used." 161 

Tommy Vallee had grown up as a middle child between his sisters, Mar- 
garet, two years older, and Mary, three years younger. Their French Canadian 
family lived in a German-Irish neighborhood in the northwest part of 
Chicago. 162 Mary's strongest memory of her brother was of his always want- 
ing to be a Marine like his older cousin, Mike. "All he dreamt of," she said, 
"was being a Marine." 163 At the age of fifteen, Tommy realized his dream. 
He ran away from home, lied about his age, and joined the Marine Corps. 

Thomas Arthur Vallee was wounded in the Korean War when a mortar 
shell exploded near him. 164 He suffered a concussion that would affect him 
the rest of his life. An FBI teletype on Vallee the week after Kennedy's assas- 
sination stated that the schizophrenic ex-Marine had a prior history of men- 
tal commitment, "allegedly has a metal plate in his scalp," and "received 
complete disability from the Veterans Administration." 165 

After Vallee was discharged from the Marines at the age of nineteen in 

Saigon and Chicago 


November 1952, he used his money to buy a new car. A few days later, he got 
drunk in a neighborhood bar, then demolished the car in an accident. 166 He 
suffered another terrible head injury. He was in a coma for a couple of 
months. His father stayed by his bed. When Thomas finally regained con- 
sciousness, he had to go through a complete rehabilitation program, learn- 
ing all over again how to walk, talk, and hold a knife and fork. 167 

Soon after he returned home, while he was regaining the basic skills of liv- 
ing, his father died of a heart attack. An uncle accused Thomas of killing his 
father, driving him to death by his errant behavior. Mary said her brother felt 

deeply guilty about his father's death. "After the accident," she said, "my 
brother was never the same again." 168 

In spite of his shaky health, Vallee reenlisted for a second term in the 
Marines in February 1955. It was another unsettling experience. His Marine 
Corps medical records noted his "extremely abnormal nervousness and peri- 
ods of excitement in which he cannot talk to anyone. He is also said to be 
very hyper-active and does not get along well in the barracks . . ." 169 After 
giving Vallee an extensive psychiatric evaluation, the Marines honorably dis- 
charged him in September 1956 for a physical disability diagnosed as "Schiz- 
ophrenic Reaction, Paranoid Type #3003, Moderate, Chronic." 170 His 
military records show further that a Naval Speed Letter to the Navy's Bureau 
of Medicine and Surgery on August 6, 1956, requested a bed for him in a Vet- 
erans Administration Hospital near Chicago for an indefinite length of 
time. 171 

Thomas Vallee had been led along a trail that Lee Oswald would follow 
after him. In his most revealing interview, Vallee told investigative reporter 
Edwin Black that he had been assigned by the Marines to a U-2 base in 
Japan, Camp Otsu. 172 Vallee thereby came under the control of the Central 
Intelligence Agency, which commanded the U-2, just as Oswald would come 
under the CIA's control as a radar operator at another CIA U-2 base in Japan. 

Vallee also told Black that he later worked with the CIA at a camp near 
Levittown, Long Island, helping to train Cuban exiles to assassinate Fidel 
Castro. 173 Oswald participated in a CIA training camp with Cuban exiles by 
Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans. 174 Vallee's close CIA connections, 
like Oswald's, help to explain how he, too, came to be employed at a site over 
a presidential parade route. Thomas Arthur Vallee and Lee Harvey Oswald, 
two men under the CIA's thumb for years, were being set up, one after the 
other, as scapegoats in two prime sites for killing Kennedy. 

In August 1963 as Oswald was preparing to move from New Orleans 
back to Dallas, Vallee moved from New York City back to Chicago. 175 Just 
as Oswald got a job in a warehouse right over Kennedy's future motorcade 
route in Dallas, so, too, did Vallee get a job in a warehouse right over 
Kennedy's future motorcade route in Chicago. Like Oswald in Dallas (before 
his summer in New Orleans), Vallee found employment as a printer. He was 
hired by IPP Litho-Plate, located at 625 West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago. 

With the help of a friendly real estate agent, I have stood on the roof of 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the building in which Thomas Arthur Vallee worked in November 1963. The 
view from 625 West Jackson was strikingly similar to the view I had from the 
Texas School Book Depository, during a trip I made to Lee Harvey Oswald's 
workplace in Dallas. 

When I visited 625 West Jackson Boulevard in the summer of 2001, the 
old eight-storied building had been remodeled for loft apartment dwellers. 
According to its Chicago building code inspectors' records, the building I 
was standing on dated back to at least 1913. 176 From its roof I could look 
down and over to where JFK's presidential limousine had been scheduled to 
make a slow turn up from the Northwest Expressway (today ironically the 
Kennedy Expressway) exit ramp onto West Jackson on November 2, 1963. 
It was analogous to the slow curve the limousine would make in Dallas in 
front of the Texas School Book Depository three weeks later. In the Chicago 
motorcade, after proceeding one more block, President Kennedy would have 
passed by Vallee's workplace, just as he would in fact pass by Oswald's work- 
place in Dallas three weeks later. 

Vallee's location at IPP Litho-Plate actually gave him a nearer, clearer view 
of the November 2 Chicago motorcade than Oswald's so-called "sniper's 
nest" did of the November 22 Dallas motorcade. Oswald's job was on the 
sixth floor. Vallee's work site, three floors lower than Oswald's, put him in 
the culpable position of having an unimpeded shot at a president passing 
directly below him. At the same time, the unidentified snipers in the Chicago 
plot could have shot Kennedy from hidden vantage points and then escaped, 
leaving Vallee to take the blame. 

Thomas Vallee had two people in particular to thank for his not becom- 
ing the scapegoat in a presidential assassination that almost occurred beneath 
his Chicago workplace. Lieutenant Berkeley Moyland, a member of the 
Chicago Police Department, was the first intervening angel who saved Vallee 
from suffering what would soon become Oswald's fate. Years after Moyland 
retired, with his health failing, he confided in his son the story of his salvific 
encounter with Thomas Arthur Vallee. Even then, he added cautiously, "You 
probably can't repeat it, but you ought to know it." 177 The U.S. Treasury 
Department, he said, had for some reason forbidden him to share the expe- 
rience with anyone. 178 Yet the story seemed innocent enough. 

In the fall of 1963, Lieutenant Moyland had the habit of eating at a cafe- 
teria on Wilson Avenue in Chicago, where he knew the manager. One day in 
late October, the manager alerted the officer in plainclothes to a regular cus- 
tomer who had been making threatening remarks about President Kennedy, 
due to visit Chicago within the week. The manager told Moyland when the 
threatening customer usually came in. Moyland decided to wait for him at 
the appropriate time. When the manager indicated that this was the man, 
Moyland took his tray over to Thomas Vallee's table, sat down with him, and 
engaged him in conversation. 179 

Moyland sized up Vallee quickly as a damaged, imbalanced personality. 
He also realized Vallee probably had weapons in his possession, as would 

Saigon and Chicago 


soon be confirmed. 180 He told the man firmly that nothing good could come 
from the remarks he was making about President Kennedy. His behavior 
could in fact lead to serious consequences, beginning with anyone like him- 
self who talked and acted in such a way. As Berkeley Moyland described this 
confrontation later to his son, he said the man across the table listened to him 
soberly, especially when Moyland identified himself as a police officer. 181 

After leaving the cafeteria, Lieutenant Moyland phoned the Secret Serv- 
ice with a warning about Vallee. 182 He was told that the Secret Service would 
take care of the situation. As a result of Moyland's tip, Vallee was, as we 
have seen, investigated and placed under police surveillance. However, it was 
not Moyland but an FBI informant named "Lee" whose alert disrupted the 
more critical four-man rifle team that represented the real threat to Kennedy, 
and thus to potential patsy Vallee as well. 

Berkeley Moyland was phoned back by an official in the Treasury Depart- 
ment (with jurisdiction over the Secret Service) who committed him to the 
absolute silence on the matter that he almost took to his grave. The Treas- 
ury Department official gave the police officer stringent orders. He said: 
"Don't write anything about it. Don't tell anybody about it. Just forget about 
it." 183 Nevertheless, in his final years, Moyland did finally tell the story to his 
son, who in turn shared it with me in an interview thirty years later. 

Unlike the story of Dallas, Berkeley Moyland's forbidden story had a 
peaceful conclusion. Lieutenant Moyland and Thomas Vallee met one more 
time at the cafeteria, under more relaxed circumstances — "just to shoot the 
bull," Moyland said. 184 

Finally, the retired officer said, ending the story to his son, he received a 
message in the mail some time later that he believed came from Thomas 
Arthur Vallee. It was a greeting card that said "thank you." The card bore 
no signature. Yet Moyland felt certain it came from the disturbed but grate- 
ful man he had cautioned over breakfast and then turned in to the Secret 
Service. 185 

Thanks to the intervention of Berkeley Moyland and the unidentified 
"Lee," Thomas Arthur Vallee was spared the shame of being identified in 
the public's mind as President Kennedy's assassin. He was arrested on a pre- 
text two and a half hours before Kennedy's scheduled arrival in Chicago. 
However, as the Chicago Secret Service knew, with only that much time to 
go before the president's plane was due to touch down at O'Hare Airport, 
they still had the responsibility of finding two of the four snipers who 
remained at large on the streets. 

1 4:30 P.M. on Friday, November 1, as rebel military units were encircling 
the Gia Long Presidential Palace in Saigon, President Diem phoned 
Ambassador Lodge. When their conversation was over, Lodge reported it in 

a Flash Telegram to the State Department that was passed to the CIA, the 
White House, and the Secretary of Defense: 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

DiEM: "Some units have made a rebellion and I want to know: What 
is the attitude of the U.S.?" 

Lodge: "I do not feel well enough informed to be able to tell you. I 
have heard the shooting, but am not acquainted with all the facts. [Lodge 
was in fact receiving Conein's regular reports from the coup command 
post at Joint General Staff headquarters.] Also it is 4:30 A.M. in Wash- 
ington and the U.S. Government cannot possibly have a view." [As Lodge 
knew, CIA, State, White House, and Defense officials were very much 
awake at that hour in Washington reading his and Conein's reports on 
the coup they had facilitated.] 

Diem: "But you must have some general ideas. After all, I am a Chief 
of State. I have tried to do my duty. I want to do now what duty and good 
sense require. I believe in duty above all." 

Lodge: "You have certainly done your duty. As I told you only this 
morning, I admire your courage and your great contributions to your 
country. No one can take away from you the credit for all you have done. 
Now I am worried about your physical safety. I have a report that those 
in charge of the current activity offer you and your brother safe conduct 
out of the country if you resign. Had you heard this?" 

Diem: "No. [Then after a pause, as Diem realized from Lodge's words 
that the U.S. ambassador was in close contact with coup leaders.] You 
have my telephone number. " 

Lodge: "Yes. If I can do anything for your physical safety, please call 


DiEM: "I am trying to re-establish order." 1 


The rebel troops bombarded the presidential guard barracks and the Gia 
Long Palace through the night. At 3:30 Saturday morning, the generals 
ordered an assault to overwhelm Diem's loyalist guards. 

CIA agent Lucien Conein was beside the generals at Joint General Staff 
headquarters. He continued to act as their adviser. They had alerted him a 
few hours before the coup. Conein had at the generals' request brought "all 
available money" to the coup headquarters from the CIA's operational funds, 
$42,000 worth of piastres — "for food for the rebel troops," as Conein 
said, 187 and perhaps, as Lodge had said, "to buy off potential opposition." 188 
Conein also brought with him a special voice radio "to relay information 
about the coup to the [Saigon] station and other CIA officers cut into his 
net." 189 In addition, the generals had set up for him a direct telephone line 
to the U.S. Embassy. Conein was at the hub of a coup communications sys- 
tem extending from the generals' command post to CIA headquarters in Lan- 
gley, Virginia, and to the Situation Room in the White House. The CIA's 
coup adviser, Lucien Conein, was totally wired to apply covert power from 
afar. 190 He and the generals knew the "advice" he was relaying to them from 
elsewhere could never be attributed to its ultimate sources. 

Two of Conein's sources of recommendations to the generals were in the 

Saigon and Chicago 


White House Situation Room. There in the early morning hours of Novem- 
ber 1, while the president was sleeping upstairs, McGeorge Bundy and Roger 
Hilsman were pouring over Conein's blow-by-blow account of the coup. 
Already looking ahead, they cabled the Saigon Embassy that if the coup 
should be successful, the generals should justify it publicly by saying that 
"Nhu was dickering with the Communists to betray the anti-Communist 
cause. High value of this argument should be emphasized to them at earliest 
opportunity." 191 The embassy relayed the message through Conein, then 
cabled back to Bundy and Hilsman, "Point has been made to the generals." 192 

Bundy's and Hilsman's recommendations, which the generals followed 
after the coup, put another obstacle in the way of Kennedy's withdrawal pol- 
icy. That anyone might do in Vietnam what Kennedy had already done in 
Laos was being characterized by Kennedy's own advisers as a betrayal of the 
anti-communist cause, to be used as the reasonable public justification for a 
coup d'etat in Saigon. Bundy and Hilsman were making it more difficult for 
Kennedy to negotiate a way out of Vietnam. Moreover, a similar case for 
"betrayal of the anti-Communist cause" could already be made against JFK 
to justify a Washington coup. 

General Tran Van Don in his circumspect memoir of the Saigon coup 
reveals another, more urgent mandate that CIA operative Conein passed on 
to the generals. When General Don told Conein that he suspected the Ngo 
brothers might no longer be in the presidential palace, Conein said to him 
with irritation, "Diem and Nhu must be found at any cost." 193 

Diem and Nhu had escaped from the palace in the Friday night darkness, 
eluding the soldiers surrounding the grounds. They were then driven by an 
aide to Cholon, where a Chinese businessman gave them overnight refuge in 
his home. 194 It was from Cholon on Saturday morning that Ngo Dinh Diem 
made his last phone call to Henry Cabot Lodge. In his descriptions of the 
coup over the years, Lodge never mentioned his Saturday morning call from 
Diem. The two men's final exchange was revealed by Lodge's chief aide, Mike 
Dunn, in an interview in 1986, the year after Lodge's death. 195 

Diem had decided to take seriously the ambassador's parting words to 
him Friday afternoon: "If I can do anything for your physical safety, please 
call me." Diem did so Saturday morning. 

"That morning," Mike Dunn said, "Diem asked [in his call] if there was 
something we could do. Lodge put the phone down and went to check on 
something. I held the line open . . . Lodge told Diem he would offer them asy- 
lum and do what he could for them. I wanted to go over — in fact, I asked 
Lodge if I could go over and take them out. I said, 'Because they are going 
to kill them.' Told him that right flat out." 196 

Dunn thought if Lodge had forced the issue by sending him over to bring 
Diem and Nhu out of Cholon, their lives would have been saved — as the 
man whom Lodge represented, President Kennedy, wanted to happen. 

But Lodge said to Dunn, "We can't. We just can't get that involved." 197 

Lucien Conein has said in an interview of his own that Diem also made 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

three final calls to the generals on Saturday, ultimately surrendering and 
"requesting only safe conduct to the airport and departure from Vietnam." 198 
Conein said he then called the CIA station. The CIA told him "it would take 
twenty-four hours to get a plane with sufficient range to fly the brothers non- 
stop to a country of asylum." 199 The CIA had made no plans to evacuate 
Diem and Nhu to avoid their assassinations. Nor, according to the CIA, did 
the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam have a plane available then with sufficient 
range to fly Diem and Nhu to asylum, although a plane had apparently been 
standing by to fly Lodge to Washington. The Ngo brothers would have to 
remain in Saigon while the generals decided their fate. It did not take long 
for that to happen. 

At 8:00 A.M. Saturday, Diem and Nhu left the house in Cholon to go to a 
nearby Catholic church. It was All Souls Day. Although the early morning 
Mass had ended, the brothers were able to receive communion from a priest 
shortly before a convoy of two armed jeeps and an armored personnel car- 
rier pulled up in front of the church. 

After learning the Ngos' location, General Minh had sent a team of five 
men to pick them up. Two of the men in the personnel carrier were Major 
Duong Hieu Nghia, a member of the Dai Viet party that was especially hos- 
tile to Diem, 200 and Minh's personal bodyguard, Captain Nguyen Van 
Nhung, described as a professional assassin who had killed forty people. 201 

Diem and Nhu were standing on the church steps. From what Lodge and 
the generals had told him on the phone, Diem thought he was being taken 
to the airport for a flight to another country. He asked if he could go by the 
palace to pick up some of his things. The officers said their orders were to 
take him at once to military headquarters. 202 

As Diem and Nhu were led to the armored personnel carrier, they 
expressed surprise that they wouldn't be riding in a car. According to a wit- 
ness, "Nhu protested that it was unseemly for the president to travel in that 
fashion." 203 They were shown how to climb down the hatch into the semi- 
darkness of the armored vehicle. Captain Nhung went down with them. He 
tied their hands behind their backs. Major Nghia remained over them in the 
turret with his submachine gun. The convoy took off. 

When the vehicles arrived at 8:30 at Joint General Staff headquarters, the 
hatch of the personnel carrier was opened. Diem and Nhu were dead. Both 
men had been "shot in the nape of the neck," according to Lodge's report 
two days later. 204 Nhu had also been stabbed in the chest and shot many 
times in the back. 205 Years later, two of the officers in the convoy described 
the assassinations of Diem and Nhu: "Nghia shot point-blank at them with 
his submachine gun, while Captain Nhung . . . sprayed them with bullets 
before using a knife on them." 206 

n Saturday, November 2, at 9:35 A.M., President Kennedy held a meet- 
ing at the White House with his principal advisers on Vietnam. As the 

Saigon and Chicago 


meeting began, the fate of Diem and Nhu was unknown. Michael Forrestal 
walked in with a telegram. He handed it to the president. It was from Lodge. 
The message was that "Diem and Nhu were both dead, and the coup lead- 
ers were claiming their deaths to be suicide." 207 But Kennedy knew they must 
have been murdered. General Maxwell Taylor, who was sitting with the pres- 
ident at the cabinet table, has described JFK's reaction: 

"Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of 
shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before. He had always 
insisted that Diem must never suffer more than exile and had been led to 
believe or had persuaded himself that a change in government could be car- 
ried out without bloodshed." 208 

After he learned of Diem's and Nhu's deaths, Kennedy was "somber and 
shaken," according to Arthur Schlesinger, who "had not seen him so 
depressed since the Bay of Pigs." 209 

As in the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy accepted responsibility for the terrible con- 
sequences of decisions he had questioned, but not enough. In the case of the 
coup, he had submitted to the pressures for the August 24 telegram and the 
downward path that followed, while trying to persuade Lodge to negotiate 
with Diem, and Diem to change course in time. Both had refused to cooper- 
ate. He had sent Torby Macdonald to Saigon to appeal personally to Diem 
to save his life. Diem had again been unresponsive. When Diem did finally 
say in effect to Kennedy through Lodge on the morning of November 1, "Tell 
us what you want and we'll do it," 210 it was the eleventh hour before the 
coup. Lodge's delayed transmission of Diem's conciliatory message to 
Kennedy made certain that JFK would receive it too late. 

Kennedy knew many, if not all, of the backstage maneuvers that kept him 
from reaching Diem in time, and Diem from reaching him. But he also knew 
he should never have agreed to the August 24 telegram in the first place. And 
he knew he could have thrown his whole weight against a coup from the 
beginning, as he had not. He had gone along with the push for a coup, while 
dragging his feet and seeking a way out of it. He accepted responsibility for 
consequences he had struggled to avoid, but in the end not enough — the 
deaths of Diem and Nhu. 

But again, as in the Bay of Pigs, he blamed the CIA for manipulation, and 
in this case, assassination. In his anger at the CIA's behind-the-scenes role in 
the deaths of Diem and Nhu, he said to his friend Senator George Smathers, 
"I've got to do something about those bastards." He told Smathers that "they 
should be stripped of their exorbitant power." 211 He was echoing his state- 
ment after the Bay of Pigs that he wanted "to splinter the CIA in a thousand 
pieces and scatter it to the winds." 212 

Kennedy's anguish at Diem's death was foreshadowed by his response to 
the CIA-supported murder of another nationalist leader. 

On January 17, 1961, three days before John Kennedy took office as pres- 
ident, Congo leader Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by the Belgian gov- 
ernment with the complicity of the CIA. 213 As Madeleine Kalb, author of 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

The Congo Cables, has observed, "much of the sense of urgency in the first 
few weeks of January [1961] which led to the death of Lumumba came . . . 
from fear of the impending change in Washington" that would come with 

Kennedy's inauguration. 214 It was no accident that Lumumba was rushed to 
his execution three days before the U.S. presidency was turned over to a man 
whose most notorious foreign policy speech in the Senate had been a call for 
Algerian independence. Senator John Kennedy's July 1957 speech in support 
of the Algerian liberation movement created an international uproar, with 
more conservative critics (including even Adlai Stevenson) claiming he had 
gone too far in his support of African nationalism. 215 

In 1959, the year before Kennedy was elected president, he had said to the 
Senate: "Call it nationalism, call it anti-colonialism, call it what you will, 
Africa is going through a revolution . . . The word is out — and spreading 
like wildfire in nearly a thousand languages and dialects — that it is no longer 
necessary to remain forever poor or forever in bondage." 216 In Africa and 
Europe, Kennedy had become well known as a supporter of African nation- 
alism. JFK even took his support of the African independence movement into 
his 1960 presidential campaign, saying then repeatedly, "we have lost ground 
in Africa because we have neglected and ignored the needs and aspirations 
of the African people." 217 It is noteworthy that in the index to his 1960 cam- 
paign speeches, there are 479 references to Africa. 218 

The CIA took seriously Kennedy's African nationalist sympathies. As his 
inauguration approached, the CIA's station chief in Leopoldville, Lawrence 
Devlin, spoke of "the need to take 'drastic steps' before it was too late." 219 
CIA analyst Paul Sakwa pointed out in an interview that the decision to put 
Lumumba in the hands of his assassins was made by men "in the pay of and 
receiving constant counsel from the CIA station." 220 The CIA succeeded in 

having Lumumba killed in haste by Belgian collaborators three days before 
Kennedy took his oath of office. 

Four weeks later, on February 13, 1961, JFK received a phone call with 
the delayed news of Lumumba's murder. Photographer Jacques Lowe took 
a remarkable picture of the president at that moment. Lowe's photo of 
Kennedy responding to the news of Lumumba's assassination is on the desk- 
jacket cover of Richard D. Mahoney's book JFK: Ordeal in Africa. It shows 
JFK horror-stricken. His eyes are shut. The fingers of his right hand are press- 
ing into his forehead. His head is collapsing against the phone held to his ear. 

Kennedy was not even president at the time of Lumumba's death. However, 
he recognized that if as president-elect he had spoken out publicly in support 
of Lumumba's life, he might have stopped his assassination. After Kennedy 
had won the November 1960 election, Lumumba under house arrest had 
smuggled out a telegram congratulating Kennedy and expressing his admira- 
tion for the president-elect's support for African independence. 221 JFK had 
then asked Averell Harriman, "Should we help Lumumba?" Harriman replied 
that he "was not sure we could help him even if we wanted to." 222 

In spite of his sympathy for Lumumba, Kennedy had not spoken out on 
the Congo leader's behalf in the weeks leading up to his assassination and 

Saigon and Chicago 


Kennedy's inauguration. When JFK received the delayed news of Lumumba's 
murder a month later, he was anguished by his failure at not having helped 

His response to the news of Diem's murder was even more pronounced. 
In the case of Diem, he held himself especially responsible because of his 
cooperation, albeit reluctant, with the coup. Had he thrown presidential cau- 
tion to the winds and spoken up decisively, he might have saved Diem's life. 
A badly compromised Vietnamese leader, with whom he might once have 
negotiated a withdrawal from the war, was now dead. All of this entered 
into his disgust with the Vietnam War and the strength of his decision to 
withdraw from it. 

t the last possible moment, at 10:15 A.M. on Saturday, November 2, White 
House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger announced that President Kennedy's 
trip to Chicago had been canceled. The decision to call off his trip was made 
so late that the press plane had already taken off for Chicago. Salinger said 
to the media left behind: "The President is not going to the football game." 
Salinger said the Vietnam crisis would keep Kennedy in Washington. 223 

Chicago Secret Service agents knew that another reason for the last-second 
cancellation was the warning they had given the White House: Two snipers 
with high-powered rifles were thought to be waiting along the president's 
parade route. Three other potential assassins were already in custody or 
about to be arrested: the two suspected snipers being held at the Secret Serv- 
ice office, and Thomas Arthur Vallee, who was being followed by the 
Chicago Police. 

The time at which Thomas Arthur Vallee was arrested, 9:10 A.M. Central 
Time (10:10 A.M. Eastern Time), 224 by Chicago Police intelligence officers 
Daniel Groth and Peter Schurla, is significant. Whereas the press announce- 
ment of the Chicago trip's cancellation was made at 10:15 A.M. Eastern (9:15 
A.M. Central), even a quick decision to cancel the trip would have been made 
at least ten minutes before the public announcement — with government 
authorities therefore being aware of the trip's cancellation by about 10:00 
A.M. Eastern (9:00 A.M. Central). 

Why did the police officers who had been watching for hours overnight a 
potential presidential assassin wait until after the president had cancelled his 
trip before they arrested their suspect? The impression given is that the pur- 
pose of the two intelligence-connected officers may not have been to restrain 
Vallee but to shadow him until the president was actually shot. For the suc- 
cess of the assassination plot, the scapegoat Vallee had to remain free — and 
did remain free — so long as Kennedy was still coming to Chicago and could 
be shot there. If the officers' purpose was, as claimed, "to get Vallee off the 
street" and protect the president, why was Vallee's arrest put off until after 
government authorities knew President Kennedy was no longer coming to 

On the following Monday and Tuesday, Maurice Martineau collected the 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Chicago plot information from his Secret Service agents. Unlike in their work 
on other investigations, they were told to prepare no documents of their own. 
Following Martineau's orders, the Chicago agents dictated oral reports to the 
office's top secretary, Charlotte Klapkowski, then turned in their notebooks. 
Secret Service chief James J. Rowley had phoned Martineau from Washing- 
ton, asking that the Chicago office use a special "COS" (Central Office Secret) 
file number for this case — a process whose effect, as Bolden explained later to 
House investigators, was to sequester the Chicago plot documents, making 
their subterranean existence deniable by the government. 225 In the Chicago 
office, only Martineau wrote and saw the official, top-secret report. He sent 
it immediately by special courier to Washington chief James J. Rowley. 226 

Abraham Bolden watched apprehensively the compartmentalized prepa- 
ration of the super-secret Chicago report. Looking back after Dallas, he 
would wonder what became of this critical information that could have saved 
the president's life. In the meantime, he felt, as an already known objector to 
Kennedy's flawed Secret Service protection, that he had come under added 
suspicion for the forbidden knowledge he now had of the Chicago plot. 

On November 18, Bolden was suddenly ordered to report to Washington, 

D.C. There the Internal Revenue Service offered him an undercover assign- 
ment for an investigation of congressional aides. He would, they said, be given 
a new identity, that of "David Baker." He was to turn in all his Secret Serv- 
ice identification. He was told that his old identity of Abraham Bolden would 
be erased, even to the point of the IRS destroying his birth records. 

Bolden wondered why he had been singled out for such a special assign- 
ment. The IRS had its own black agents. Was he so brilliant that they had to 
recruit him from the Secret Service? He thought there was something suspi- 
cious about it all. He declined the offer. 227 

As I visited with Abraham Bolden one sunny morning in 2001 in his back- 
yard in South Side Chicago, he straightened up from his gardening and said 
quietly that he thought he had been set up in mid-November 1963 to be 
killed. 228 As was the case for thousands of Latin American activists when 
they were about to be abducted and murdered, he was being positioned for 
his disappearance. Abe Bolden knew far too much in the days after the failed 
Chicago plot to kill Kennedy. Although Bolden managed to escape a Wash- 
ington setup on November 18, when he returned to Chicago he was filled 
with apprehension. He felt something terrible was about to happen. He told 
both his wife and a secretary at the Secret Service office that he thought the 
president was going to be assassinated. 229 

On the following Friday afternoon, November 22, he went to a tavern in 

Chicago to interview a man about a forged check. A television set suddenly 
flashed the news that Kennedy had been shot. Bolden's legs seemed to col- 
lapse. It had happened, just as he feared. 230 

When Bolden returned to his office, he raised the question with his fellow 
Secret Service agents about the obvious connections between the Chicago 
plot and the president's murder that afternoon in Dallas only three weeks 
later. Most of the agents agreed that they were connected. 231 However, Spe- 

Saigon and Chicago 


cial Agent In Charge Martineau was quick to shut down any office discus- 
sion linking Chicago on November 2 and Dallas on November 22. He told 
his staff what to believe: Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman. There was 
no connection with Chicago. Forget November 2 in Chicago. 232 

In January 1964, the Secret Service took the extraordinary step of order- 
ing all its agents to turn in their identification booklets for replacements. 
Secret Service agents carried small, passport-size booklets holding their iden- 
tification, known as "commission books." When the order came down 

requiring each agent to be re-photographed and provided with a newly 
engraved commission book, Bolden suspected that Secret Service credentials 
had been used as a cover device in the assassination of President Kennedy. 233 
As we shall see, his suspicions would be confirmed. 

Bolden continued to reflect on the president's poor security that he had 
witnessed on the White House detail. He also thought about the connections 
between Chicago and Dallas, wondering if that information shouldn't be 
shared with the Warren Commission. He bided his time, waiting for a chance 
to speak up on forbidden subjects. An opportunity presented itself the fol- 
lowing spring. 

On May 17, 1964, Bolden arrived in Washington, D.C., for a month-long 

training program at the Secret Service School. He took advantage of his first 
afternoon in Washington to try to contact the Warren Commission. His 
Secret Service superiors had anticipated his initiative. As Bolden became 
aware, his movements in Washington were being monitored. An accompa- 
nying Chicago agent was watching him closely. When he tried unsuccess- 
fully on May 17 to phone Warren Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin, he 
realized the Chicago agent probably overheard him. 234 

On May 18, as Bolden was attending one of his first classes, the Secret 
Service ordered him to fly back to Chicago to take part, they said, in an inves- 
tigation into a black counterfeiting ring. On his return to Chicago, Bolden 

was arrested by fellow agents. Maurice Martineau accused him of trying to 
sell Secret Service files to a counterfeiter. Bolden told him the accusation was 
ridiculous. He was taken before a district judge and charged with the crimes 
of soliciting money to commit fraud, obstructing justice, and conspiracy. 235 

In a trial on these charges held before District Judge J. S. Perry on July 11- 
12, 1964, the jury reached an impasse. Judge Perry said he would exercise a 
rare prerogative by advising the jurors how to rule on the evidence: "In my 
opinion, the evidence sustains a verdict of guilty on Counts 1, 2, and Count 
3 »236 Undeterred by the judge's advice, the jury remained deadlocked. A 
mistrial was declared. 237 

In a second trial before Judge Perry on August 12, 1964, Abraham Bolden 
was convicted on all three counts. The prosecution's case featured testimony 
by indicted counterfeiter Joseph Spagnoli. In his own later trial for counter- 
feiting, held before the same Judge Perry, Spagnoli shocked the court by con- 
fessing on the witness stand that he had perjured himself when he testified 
against Bolden. 238 He said Prosecutor Richard Sikes had told him he should 
lie. 239 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

In a series of appeals, Abraham Bolden's conviction was never overturned, 
in spite of the documented evidence of Judge Perry's prejudice and Spagnoli's 
perjury. Bolden thought pressures from high within the system accounted for 
both the rigging of his case and the repeated denials of his appeal. He served 
three years and nine months in federal prisons. 240 

When he was imprisoned at Springfield Federal Penitentiary, Bolden had 
prearranged a discreet way to inform his wife and lawyer if he desperately 
needed help. He would send a letter with a sign only they would recognize, 
notifying them that the time had come to object strongly to something being 
done to him. 241 

That urgent time came soon. The prison authorities committed Bolden to 
a psychiatric unit. A prison official told him, "You won't know who you are 
any more when we get through with you." 242 He was given mind-numbing 
drugs. Fortunately other prisoners showed him how to fake swallowing the 
pills. As his situation worsened, Bolden sent the sign-marked letter to his 
lawyer, who alerted Barbara Bolden. She went immediately to the prison, 
where she objected strenuously to her husband's treatment. 243 

"She saved my life," Mr. Bolden said repeatedly in my visits with him and 
Mrs. Bolden, referring especially to her persistent intercession on his behalf 
while he was in the Springfield psychiatric unit. 

In the years while Abraham Bolden was in prison, Barbara Bolden and 
their two sons and daughter had to endure a series of anonymously engi- 
neered attacks at their South Side Chicago home: an attempt to bomb the 
house; the burning down of their garage; a shot fired through one of their 
windows; the following of Mrs. Bolden; a brick tossed through the window 
of her car. 244 

In December 1967, Bolden was visited at Springfield Penitentiary by three 
men: his court-appointed attorney, Warren Commission critic Mark Lane, 
and an assistant to New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who by 
then had begun his investigation into the Kennedy assassination. After hear- 
ing Bolden's story, his visitors publicized widely his testimony to the paral- 
lels between the Chicago and Dallas plots. For thus speaking out to the public 
on the Kennedy assassination via his visitors, Bolden was placed in solitary 
confinement. 245 

In the almost four decades since his release from prison in the fall of 1969, 
Abraham Bolden has continued to speak out to researchers and writers on 
the Chicago plot against Kennedy, in spite of the chilling consequences he has 
already suffered. Since his retirement in 2001 as the quality control manager 
of an industrial firm, Bolden has written his autobiography, whose publica- 
tion will occur at about the same time as this book's. I can testify personally 
to Abraham and the late Barbara Bolden's warmth, hospitality, and coura- 
geous willingness to speak the truth in the face of powerful efforts to deter 
them. Because they were witnesses to the unspeakable even before John 
Kennedy was killed, and because they maintained that witness into the next 
century, we are able to understand the meaning of the Chicago precedent to 

Saigon and Chicago 


The Secret Service investigation of the Chicago plot to kill President 
Kennedy was initially a success story. By disrupting the Chicago plot, the 
Secret Service had fulfilled its responsibility to protect the president. The 
FBI's informant, "Lee," had somehow made the federal security system work 

in Chicago as it was supposed to work. "Lee" had whistled the key infor- 
mation on the plot far enough into the system for it to function in Chicago 

as it was meant to function, in spite of the plotters' control over major com- 
ponents of the system. It was as if the security alarm bells that the FBI's Mar- 
vin Gheesling had abruptly turned off — by canceling Oswald's security 
watch — suddenly rang. But they rang only for a short while, and only in one 

place, Chicago. Then they became deathly silent again, as the plot moved on 
to Dallas. 

The Secret Service investigation that disrupted the Chicago plot to kill 
President Kennedy should have disrupted the Dallas plot as well. The central 
elements were the same in both places: a sniper team waiting in the shadows, 
complemented by a CIA-connected, "lone nut" patsy positioned in a build- 
ing directly over the motorcade route. What the Secret Service discovered in 
Chicago should have made impossible what was then done copycat fashion 
in Dallas. 

However, the plotters reasserted their control. This time they cut the wires 
of the president's security alarms. They placed a blanket over Chicago. They 
smothered the possible pre-assassination testimony of witnesses such as 
Abraham Bolden, whose whistle blowing, like that of "Lee," if heard, could 
have brought the president's security system to life again. The failed plot's 
total cover-up within the government's police agencies made possible its suc- 
cess the second time around. 

lthough the failed Chicago plot was hushed up, Thomas Arthur Vallee 
still became a minor scapegoat. He was the only person arrested in 
Chicago who was ever identified publicly. Vallee was scapegoated as a threat 
to the president a month after his arrest and twelve days after Kennedy's 
murder in Dallas. On December 3, 1963, an article appeared in the Chicago 
American on Vallee's November 2 arrest, "Cops Seize Gun-Toting Kennedy 
Foe." The unnamed detectives who disclosed Vallee's month-old arrest char- 
acterized him as "a gun-collecting malcontent who expressed violent anti- 
Kennedy views before the assassination of the late President." 246 A similar 
article on Vallee's arrest, drawing on unidentified federal agents, appeared in 
the Chicago Daily News on the same day. 247 

The anonymous police detectives and federal agents who informed the 
media after Dallas of Vallee's arrest in Chicago one month earlier never men- 
tioned the Secret Service's detention and questioning of the two suspected 
snipers. After November 2, 1963, they and their two unapprehended com- 
rades in arms vanished without a trace of their existence. The Dallas plot 
was then allowed to unfold smoothly, as if it had no Chicago paradigm. 
Higher orders ensured the necessary amnesia. A Treasury Department offi- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

cial ordered Chicago Police Lieutenant Berkeley Moyland to forget his 
encounter with Thomas Arthur Vallee. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge 
Maurice Martineau ordered his Chicago agents to forget their investigation 
of the four-man sniper team. The Dallas assassination was allowed to hap- 
pen, unimpeded by the intelligence community's knowledge of its forerunner. 
After Dallas, Vallee alone was exposed in Chicago, as if the only precedent 
were that of another gun-toting malcontent like Lee Harvey Oswald. The 
real parallels between the two CIA-connected scapegoats, both set up with 
jobs directly over the president's motorcade, vanished along with the snipers 
behind them. 

Just as Chicago was the model for Dallas, Saigon was the backdrop for 
Chicago. The virtual simultaneity of the successful Saigon plot to assassinate 
Ngo Dinh Diem and the unsuccessful Chicago plot to assassinate John F. 
Kennedy strongly suggests their having been coordinated in a single, com- 
prehensive scenario. If Kennedy had been murdered in Chicago on the day 
after Diem's and Nhu's murders in Saigon, the juxtaposition of the events 
would have created the perfect formula to be spoon-fed to the public: 
"Kennedy murdered Diem, and got what he deserved." 

The legend created for the Dallas scenario of the gun-toting malcontent 
Lee Harvey Oswald followed a similar pattern. From the claims made by a 
series of CIA officers to the authors of widely disseminated books and arti- 
cles, John Kennedy has been convicted in his grave of having tried to kill 
Fidel Castro, whose supposedly deranged surrogate, Lee Harvey Oswald, 
then retaliated. As a successful Chicago plot would have done, the Dallas 
plot ended up blaming the victim: "Kennedy tried to murder Castro, and got 
what he deserved." 

n the fall of 1963, as the president ordered a U.S. withdrawal from Viet- 
nam, he was being eased out of control, by friends and foes alike, for the 
sake of an overriding vision of war. They all thought they knew better than 
he did what needed to be done to win the war in Vietnam, and elsewhere 
across the globe against an evil enemy. Kennedy's horror of the nuclear war 
he had skirted during the missile crisis, his concern for American troops in 
Vietnam, and his turn toward peace with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Cas- 
tro, had, in his critics' eyes, made him soft on Communism. 

For our covert action specialists in the shadows, accountable only to their 
own shadows, what Kennedy's apparent defeatism meant was clear. The 
absolute end of victory over the evil of Communism justified any means nec- 
essary, including the assassination of the president. The failed plot in Chicago 
had to be followed by a successful one in Dallas. 


Washington and Dallas 

month and a half after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nikita Khrushchev sent 
John Kennedy a private letter articulating a vision of peace they could 
realize together. 

"We believe that you will be able to receive a mandate at the next elec- 
tion," Khrushchev wrote with satisfaction to the man who had been his 
enemy in the most dangerous confrontation in history. The Soviet leader told 

Kennedy hopefully, "You will be the U.S. President for six years, which 
would appeal to us. At our times, six years in world politics is a long period 
of time." Khrushchev believed that "during that period we could create good 
conditions for peaceful coexistence on earth and this would be highly appre- 
ciated by the peoples of our countries as well as by all other peoples." 1 

Khrushchev's son Sergei said the missile crisis had forced his father to see 
everything in a different light. The same was true of Kennedy. These two 
superpower leaders had almost incinerated millions, yet they had also turned 
in that spiritual darkness from fear to trust. Their year-long secret corre- 
spondence had laid the foundation. Then JFK's appeal for help in the crisis, 
Nikita 's quick response, and their resulting agreement had forced them to 
trust each other. Sergei said, "Since he trusted the U.S. president, Father was 
ready for a long period of cooperation with John Kennedy." 2 

It was during that time of hope that a conversation took place at the Vat- 
ican between Pope John XXIII and Norman Cousins, two men who were 
helping to mediate the Kennedy-Khrushchev dialogue that promised so 
much. Pope John was dying of cancer. When he and Cousins talked in the 
pope's study in the spring of 1963, Pope John had just written his encyclical 
"Peace on Earth," whose theme of deepening trust across ideologies was 
then being incarnated in the Kennedy-Khrushchev relationship. As Cousins 
recalled their conversation ten years later, the dying pope kept repeating a sin- 
gle phrase that seemed to sum up his hopeful message of peace on earth: 



JFK and the Unspeakable 

"Nothing is impossible." 3 

With the help of Pope John, even Kennedy and Khrushchev had begun to 
believe that nothing was impossible. That was true of both good and evil. 
They had passed through the mutual threat of an inferno into a sense of 
interdependence. Through their acceptance of interdependence on the brink 
of nuclear war, peace had now become possible. 

In the American University address, Kennedy appealed to the American 
people to recognize that, while the United States and the Soviet Union had 
differences, they were still, in the end, interdependent: "And if we cannot 
end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diver- 
sity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all 
inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our chil- 
dren's future. And we are all mortal." 4 

Because Kennedy and Khrushchev had recognized their interdependence, 
nothing was impossible. After Kennedy's peace speech, he and Khrushchev 
showed their determination to make peace by their remarkably quick sign- 
ing of the nuclear test ban treaty — to the consternation of the president's mil- 
itary, CIA, and business peers. The powers that be were heavily invested in 
the Cold War and had an unyielding theology of war. They believed that an 
atheistic, Communist enemy had to be defeated. Theirs was the opposite of 
Pope John's vision that we all need to be redeemed from the evil of war itself 
by a process of dialogue, respect, and deepening mutual trust. The anti- 
communist czars of our national security state thought the only way to end 
the Cold War was to win it. 

However, moved by the missile crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev had 
turned from absolute ideologies. They had caught on to the process of peace. 
At least equally important was the fact that the people of both their coun- 
tries had caught on. Ordinary citizens who had felt helpless during the Mis- 
sile Crisis wanted more steps for peace. Khrushchev knew the Russian people 
were heartened by the American University address and the test ban treaty. 
Kennedy felt a significant shift toward peace among the American people, 
too, by the end of the summer of 1963. 

When JFK went on a speaking tour of western states in September 1963, 
he discovered to his surprise that whenever he strayed from his theme of con- 
servation to mention the test ban treaty, the crowds responded with ova- 
tions. He found that his beginning steps toward peace with Khrushchev had 
become popular in areas normally identified as bastions of the Cold War. 
When he spoke at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, usually con- 
sidered the heart of conservatism, he was greeted by a five-minute standing 
ovation. 5 Intrigued White House correspondents suggested to Press Secre- 
tary Pierre Salinger that the president was suddenly tapping the public's new- 
found desire for peace. Salinger agreed. "We've found that peace is an issue," 
he said. 6 Kennedy realized from his trip west that he could make peace much 
more of an election issue than he had thought. 

Moreover, he now had a secret political partner in Khrushchev, who had 

Washington and Dallas 


admitted in their correspondence that a second JFK term as president "would 
appeal to us." Not quite one of the six years Khrushchev said he hoped to 
work with Kennedy "for peaceful coexistence on earth" had passed. They 
had made good progress. Nothing was impossible in the five years remain- 
ing in Khrushchev's hoped-for time line for their joint peacemaking. 

Following the president's successful grassroots organizing with Norman 
Cousins for Senate ratification of the test ban treaty, the hope for peace was 
becoming contagious. Kennedy realized from both Khrushchev's readiness to 
negotiate and the public's support of the test ban treaty that a peaceful res- 
olution of the Cold War was in sight. Nothing was impossible. 

To the power brokers of the system that Kennedy ostensibly presided over, 
his and Khrushchev's turn toward peace was, however, a profound threat. 
The president's growing connection with the electorate on peace only 
increased the threat, making JFK's reelection a foregone conclusion. As the 
Cold War elite knew, Kennedy was already preparing to withdraw from Viet- 
nam. They feared he would soon be able to carry out a U.S. withdrawal from 
the war with public support, as one part of a wider peacemaking venture 
with Khrushchev (and perhaps even Castro). 

For people of great power in the Cold War, everything seemed to be at 
stake. From the standpoint of their threatened power and what they had to 
do, they, too, thought that nothing was impossible. 

ee Harvey Oswald was being systematically set up for his scapegoat role 
in Dallas, just as Thomas Arthur Vallee had been set up as an alternative 
patsy in Chicago. Vallee escaped that fate when two whistleblowers, Chicago 
Police Lieutenant Berkeley Moyland and an FBI informant named "Lee," 
stopped the Chicago plot. Oswald was not so fortunate in Dallas. His incrim- 
ination by unseen hands continued. Oswald, or someone impersonating him, 
continued to engage in actions evidently designed to draw attention to him- 
self, laying down a trail of evidence that could later be drawn upon to incrim- 
inate Lee Harvey Oswald as the president's assassin. However, the Warren 
Commission ended up ignoring or rejecting much of that evidence, because 

it indicated the work of intelligence agencies at least as much as it did the 
guilt of Oswald. 

On Friday, November 1, at the same time as the Chicago plot was unrav- 
eling, a man bought ammunition for his rifle in a conspicuous way at Mor- 
gan's Gun Shop in Fort Worth, Texas. A witness, Dewey Bradford, later told 
the FBI that the man was "rude and impertinent." The man made an endur- 
ing impression on the gun shop's other customers, as he seems to have 
intended. He made a point of telling Bradford that he had been in the Marine 
Corps, a detail that fit Oswald's background. Dewey Bradford was in the 
shop with his wife and brother-in-law. When they later saw Oswald's picture 
in Life magazine, all three of them agreed that the rude "ex-Marine" who 
had so vocally bought the ammunition for his rifle was Lee Harvey Oswald. 7 

JFK and the Unspeakable 

But was it in fact Oswald at the gun shop or instead an impersonator who 
bore a resemblance to him? Why did the "ex-Marine" seem to deliberately 
make a scene while buying his ammunition? The Warren Report ignored the 
incident, thereby avoiding the question of a plant. 

In mid-afternoon the next day, a young man walked into the Downtown 
Lincoln-Mercury showroom near Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The young man 
told car salesman Albert Guy Bogard he was interested in buying a red Mer- 
cury Comet. He said his name was Lee Oswald. He told Bogard he didn't 
have any money then for a down payment, but as the salesman recounted the 
conversation later to the FBI, "he said he had some money coming in within 
two or three weeks and would pay cash for the car." 8 "Oswald" accepted 
Bogard's invitation to test drive a red Comet. He then gave the salesman a 
memorable ride, accelerating "at speeds up to 75 and 85 miles per hour" on 
a Stemmons Freeway route that coincided with the scheduled route of JFK's 
motorcade twenty days later. 9 Back in the showroom, the increasingly flam- 
boyant young man became bitter when Bogard's fellow salesman, Eugene 
M. Wilson, tried to sell him the Comet on the spot but said he needed a credit 
rating. "Oswald" then said provocatively, "Maybe I'm going to have to go 
back to Russia to buy a car." 10 

The Warren Report dismissed the provocative behavior of the young man 
at Downtown Lincoln Mercury, saying he couldn't have been Oswald: Their 
descriptions didn't match, Oswald couldn't drive, and Oswald was appar- 
ently elsewhere that afternoon. 11 But the Warren Commission left unmen- 
tioned another possibility — that the "returnee from Russia" who "would 
soon have the cash" to buy a $3000 automobile was indeed not Lee Harvey 
Oswald but an imposter, planting fake evidence against the man whose name 
he was using as his own. 


hat was going on in the mind of John Kennedy during that time when 
the plot to kill him intensified? Did he have any intimation that, in 
Thomas Merton's phrase, he had been "marked out for assassination"? 

Merton was a poet and a spiritual writer, not a political analyst. His prem- 
ise for an assassination was not so much a political plot as it was a spiritual 
breakthrough, by President Kennedy, to "depth, humanity, and a certain 
totality of self forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals but for 
man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication." From his Trappist monastery 
in Kentucky one year into JFK's presidency, Merton hoped and prayed in a 
letter to a friend that "maybe Kennedy will break through into that some 
day by miracle." 12 

Nine months after Merton wrote those words, Nikita Khrushchev, who 
was no more of a saint than John Kennedy, helped Kennedy "break through 
into that depth" at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis "by miracle," just 
as Kennedy at the same critical time helped Khrushchev break through "by 
miracle." The form of the miracle, following Pope John's process, was com- 

Washington and Dallas 

munication, respect, and agreement between two political enemies at the 
height of the most dangerous conflict in history. The two men then turned 
together, at the risk of their lives and power, toward the "deeper kind of ded- 
ication" Merton described. It was a breakthrough for humanity that, accord- 
ing to Merton's inexorable spiritual logic, marked out Kennedy for 
assassination. With no knowledge of any plots, Thomas Merton had simply 
understood that if Kennedy were to experience the deep change that was 
necessary for humanity's survival, he himself might very well not survive: 
"such people are before long marked out for assassination." 13 

Set in that spiritual context, as this entire book is, the question of Kennedy's 
awareness is not whether he knew of any specific plot machinations, which 
was unlikely. It is rather whether he knew, in the words of another poet, what 
was blowing in the wind, namely, his own death. When the question is con- 
sidered in terms of Kennedy's thinking about his own death, we can see he had 
been listening for a long time to an answer blowing in the wind. 

JFK biographer Ralph Martin observed: "Kennedy talked a great deal 
about death, and about the assassination of Lincoln." 14 Kennedy's conscious 
model for struggling truthfully through conflict, and being ready to die as a 
consequence, was Abraham Lincoln. On the day when Kennedy and 
Khrushchev resolved the Missile Crisis, JFK told his brother, Robert, referring 
to the assassination of Lincoln, "This is the night I should go to the theater. " 15 

Kennedy was preparing himself for the same end Lincoln met during his 
night at the theater. As we saw from presidential secretary Evelyn Lincoln's 
midnight discovery of the slip of paper JFK had written on, he had adopted 
Lincoln's prayer: "I know there is a God — and I see a storm coming. If he has 
a place for me, I believe that I am ready." 16 

Kennedy loved that prayer. He cited it at the annual presidential prayer 
breakfast on March 1, 1962, 17 and again in a speech in Frankfurt, Germany, 
on June 25, 1963. 18 More important, he made the prayer his own. Ever since 
his graceful journey on the currents of Ferguson Passage, Kennedy had 
known there was a God. In his deepening conflicts with the CIA and the mil- 
itary, he saw a storm coming. If God had a place for him, he believed that 
he, too, would be ready for the storm. 

In his final months, the president spoke with friends about his own death 
with a freedom and frequency that shocked them. Some found it abnormal. 
Senator George Smathers said, "I don't know why it was, but death became 
kind of an obsession with Jack." 19 Yet if one understood the pressures for 
war and Kennedy's risks for peace, his awareness of his own death was real- 
istic. He understood systemic power. He knew who his enemies were and 
what he was up against. He knew what he had to do, from his turn away 
from the Cold War in his American University address, to negotiating peace 
with Khrushchev and Castro and withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam. 
Conscious of the price of peace, he took the risk. Death did not surprise him. 

For at least a decade, his favorite poem had been "Rendezvous," a cele- 
bration of death. "Rendezvous" was by Alan Seeger, an American poet killed 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

in World War I. The poem was the author's affirmation of his own antici- 
pated death. Before the United States entered the war, Alan Seeger, a recent 
Harvard graduate, volunteered for the French Foreign Legion. He was killed 
on July 4, 1916, while attacking a German position in northern France. 20 

The refrain of "Rendezvous," "I have a rendezvous with Death," articu- 
lated John Kennedy's deep sense of his own mortality. These words of an 
earlier Harvard graduate, who like Kennedy had volunteered for a war front, 
became part of JFK's lifelong meditation on death. Kennedy had experienced 
a continuous rendezvous with death in anticipation of his actual death: from 
the deaths of his PT boat crew members, from drifting in the dark waters of 
Ferguson Passage toward the open ocean, from the early deaths of his brother 
Joe and sister Kathleen, and from the recurring near-death experiences of his 
almost constant illnesses. The words of his American University address were 
heartfelt: "we are all mortal." 

He recited "Rendezvous" to Jacqueline in 1953 their first night home in 
Hyannis after their honeymoon. 21 She memorized the poem, and recited it 
back to him over the years. In the fall of 1963, Jackie taught the words of 
the poem to their five-year-old daughter, Caroline. It was Caroline who then 
gave "Rendezvous" its most haunting rendition. 

On the morning of October 5, 1963, President Kennedy was meeting with 
his National Security Council in the White House Rose Garden. Caroline 
suddenly appeared at her father's side. She said she wanted to tell him some- 
thing. He tried to divert her attention while the meeting continued. Caroline 
persisted. The president smiled and turned his full attention to his daughter. 
He told her to go ahead. While the members of the National Security Coun- 
cil sat and watched, Caroline looked into her father's eyes and said: 

I have a rendezvous with Death 

At some disputed barricade, 

When Spring comes back with rustling shade 

And apple-blossoms fill the air 

I have a rendezvous with Death 

When Spring brings back blue days and fair. 

It may be he shall take my hand 

And lead me into his dark land 

And close my eyes and quench my breath 

It may be I shall pass him still. 

I have a rendezvous with Death 

On some scarred slope of battered hill, 

When Spring comes round again this year 

And the first meadow-flowers appear. 

God knows 'twere better to be deep 
Pillowed in silk and scented down, 

Washington and Dallas 

Where love throbs out in blissful sleep, 
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, 
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . . 
But I've a rendezvous with Death 
At midnight in some flaming town, 
When Spring trips north again this year, 
And I to my pledged word am true, 
I shall not fail that rendezvous. 22 

After Caroline said the poem's final word, "rendezvous," Kennedy's 

national security advisers sat in stunned silence. One of them, describing the 

scene three decades later, said the bond between father and daughter was 

such that "it was as if there was 'an inner music' he was trying to teach 
her." 23 

John Kennedy had been listening to the music of death for years. He had 
no fear of it, indeed welcomed hearing that music so long as he could remain 
faithful to it. From repetition and reflection, "I have a rendezvous with 
Death," with its anticipated parallel to the end of his own journey, may have 
become his personal refrain, alongside Lincoln's prayer. Now hearing his 
own acceptance of death from the lips of his daughter, while surrounded by 
a National Security Council that opposed his breakthrough to peace, he may 
have once again deepened his pledge not to fail that rendezvous. 

As he had written to himself during a midnight flight two years earlier, 
Kennedy knew there was a God and saw a storm coming. The storm he 
feared was nuclear war. If God had a place for him — a rendezvous with 
death — that might help avert that storm on humanity, he believed that he 
was ready. 

he framing of Lee Harvey Oswald in advance of the assassination con- 
tinued. From September through November, there were repeated sightings 
(reported after November 22) of a man who looked like Oswald taking tar- 
get practice in Dallas with his rifle. 

Once again, Oswald, or an imposter, was acting in such a way as to draw 
attention to himself. Warren Commission witness Malcolm H. Price, Jr., 

remembered a man who resembled Oswald asking Price's help in adjusting 
the scope on his rifle at the Sports Drome Rifle Range in Dallas. Price told 
the Warren Commission that "it was just about dusky dark" one night in late 
September when he turned on his car headlights on a target at the rifle range, 
so he could adjust the man's scope. After Price zeroed in the rifle, "Oswald" 
used it to fire three shots into a bull's eye on the target illuminated by the car's 
headlights. 24 Price said he saw the same man practicing with his rifle in mid- 
October at the Sports Drome, and again in November not long before the 
assassination. 25 

Witness Garland G. Slack remembered a man who looked like Oswald 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

firing his rifle at the Sports Drome on November 10 and 17. Slack recalled 
him vividly because of the way the man provoked him. On November 17, 
after Slack put up his own target for shooting, the man turned his rifle and 
repeatedly fired into Slack's target, "burning up the ammunition." When 
Slack objected strenuously, the man gave him, Slack said, "a look that I never 
would forget." 26 

Oswald, or a double, was again making himself easy to remember in sit- 
uations that in retrospect would suggest he was training for a killing. 27 On 
the face of it, this evidence of the presumed assassin's rifle practice strength- 
ened the Warren Commission's case against him. However, the testimony 
pointing to an Oswald in training with his rifle carried its own disturbing 
question as to how Oswald managed to be in two places at the same time. 
As we have seen, the CIA had already placed Oswald in Mexico City at the 
end of September, in another choreographed scenario at least equally 
damaging to his profile. In the end, the "rifle practice Oswald" had to be 
subtracted from the official biography of Lee Harvey Oswald that the gov- 
ernment composed for the Warren Report. 

For, according to the Warren Report, on September 28, 1963, when Mal- 
colm Price turned his headlights on the Sports Drome target and zeroed in 
the rifle of the man who looked like Oswald, "Oswald is known to have 
been in Mexico City." The Report went on to observe that "since a com- 
parison of the events testified to by Price and Slack strongly suggests that 
they were describing the same man, there is reason to believe that Slack was 
also describing a man other than Oswald." 28 

The Warren Report had painted itself into a corner where it was faced by 
one too many Oswalds doing too many Oswald-like things to arouse people's 
suspicions, at exactly the same time. If Oswald was "known" to be in Mex- 
ico City suspiciously visiting the Russian and Cuban Embassies, 29 then who 
was the Oswald look-alike suspiciously getting his telescopic sight adjusted 
at the same time on a Dallas rifle range? 

The Warren Report sought an escape route from its double-Oswald cor- 
ner. To try to clarify things, it argued that when Garland Slack saw the same 
man resembling Oswald whom Malcolm Price had seen, this time firing his 

rifle at the Sports Drome on November 10, "there is persuasive evidence that 
on November 10, Oswald was at the Paine's home in Irving and did not leave 
to go to the rifle range." 30 So then it could not have really been Oswald at 
the Sports Drome. However, if Lee Harvey Oswald was actually with his 
wife and daughters at the Paine residence, then who was the Oswald look- 
alike who at the same time, twelve days before Kennedy's assassination, was 
again taking target practice at the Dallas rifle range? 

It was one week later that the same Oswald look-alike made himself noto- 
rious at the Sports Drome by deliberately and repeatedly firing at another 
man's target, then staring the other man down when he objected. Who was 
this provocateur who looked like Lee Harvey Oswald? Why was he making 
himself so obvious, acting obnoxiously and "burning up the ammunition" at 

Washington and Dallas 

a Dallas rifle range just five days before the president's motorcade was due 
to pass beneath the workplace of the real Lee Harvey Oswald? 

More important than the masquerader's own identity was the question of 
who was behind his provocative actions. Who were the Oswald look-alike's 
handlers? The Warren Commission never recognized that question. It simply 
dismissed the case of the man like Oswald who ostentatiously took rifle prac- 
tice at a public range in Dallas for the two months leading up to the assassi- 
nation. Although the "rifle practice Oswald" and the "Mexico City Oswald" 
taken in themselves each added to the government's circumstantial case 
against Lee Harvey Oswald, they overlapped in time, creating too many 
Oswalds. There were more Oswalds providing evidence against Lee Harvey 
Oswald than the Warren Report could use or even explain. 31 

s Lee Harvey Oswald was being set up as an individual scapegoat, so too 
was the Soviet Union, together with its less powerful ally, Cuba, being 
portrayed as the evil empire behind the president's murder. It was in fact all 
projection by the actual plotters, but a consciously contrived projection, art- 
fully done for the American public. The brilliantly conceived Kennedy assas- 
sination scenario being played out, scene by deadly scene, was based on our 
Manichean Cold War theology. After a decade and a half of propaganda, 
the American public had absorbed a systematic demonizing of Communism. 
Atheistic Communist enemies armed with nuclear weapons were thought to 
constitute an absolute evil over against God and the democratic West. 
Against the backdrop of this dualistic theology, a beloved president seeking 
a just peace with the enemy could be murdered with impunity by the covert- 
action agencies of his national security state. U.S. intelligence agencies, coor- 
dinated by the CIA, carried out the president's murder through a propaganda 
scenario that projected the scheme's inherent evil onto our Cold War ene- 
mies. The Soviet Union, whose leader had become Kennedy's secret partner 
in peacemaking, was intended to be the biggest scapegoat of all. 

On November 18, 1963, the Soviet Embassy in Washington received a 
crudely typed, badly spelled letter dated nine days earlier and signed by "Lee 
H. Oswald" of Dallas. The timing of the letter's arrival was no accident. Its 
contents made it a Cold War propaganda bomb whose trigger would be Pres- 
ident Kennedy's assassination. Read in the context of Dallas four days later, 
the text of the letter seemed to implicate the Soviet Union in conspiring with 
Oswald to murder the U.S. president. Three paragraphs in particular laid 
the blame for the assassination at the door of the Russians. 

The letter's first paragraph read: 

"This is to inform you of recent events sincem [sic] my meetings with com- 
rade Kostin in the Embassy of the Soviet Union, Mexico City, Mexico." 32 

"Comrade Kostin" was, as the Warren Report noted, "undoubtedly a ref- 
erence to Kostikov" 33 — Valery Vladimirovich Kostikov, a KGB officer work- 
ing under the cover of being a consul at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

As we have seen, Kostikov was no ordinary KGB agent. According to 
Clarence M. Kelley, FBI director from 1973 to 1978, Valery Vladimirovich 
Kostikov was "the officer-in-charge for Western Hemisphere terrorist activ- 
ities — including and especially assassination." 34 He was, according to Kelley, 
"the most dangerous KGB terrorist assigned to this hemisphere!" 35 

Thus, on the Monday before the Friday when Kennedy would be assassi- 
nated, a letter from "Lee H. Oswald" of Dallas, delivered to the Soviet 
Embassy in Washington, began by mentioning Oswald's recent meetings at 
the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City with the U.S.S.R.'s director of assassina- 
tions in the Western Hemisphere. This was the same KGB undercover spe- 
cialist in assassinations, Valery Kostikov, who had already been set up as 
Oswald's Russian handler in fraudulent "Oswald" phone calls and tran- 
scripts. 36 Now the same Oswald-damning connection was being asserted in 
a (phony) letter to the most important Soviet embassy in the world. This 
propaganda bomb was being sent into the embassy four days before 
Kennedy's motorcade would pass beneath Oswald's workplace (while secret 
snipers would wait elsewhere in Dealey Plaza, just as they had been primed 
to wait secretly for Kennedy in Chicago near Thomas Arthur Vallee's work- 
place). The fuse of the propaganda bomb in the Soviet Embassy in Wash- 
ington stretched to Dallas. When Kennedy was murdered, the incriminating 
letter with its "Kostin'VKostikov-Oswald connection could then be revealed 
to the American people. Lee Harvey Oswald, and his apparent sponsors, the 
Soviet Union and Cuba, could be scapegoated simultaneously in the assassi- 
nation of the president. It was a scenario whose intended climax was not 
only the death of the president but also a victorious preemptive attack against 
the enemies with whom he was talking peace. 

The letter's third paragraph read: "I had not planned to contact the Soviet 
embassy in Mexico so they were unprepared, had I been able to reach the 
Soviet embassy in Havana as planned, the embassy there would have had 
time to complete our business. ," 37 

Here the letter deepens the Soviet involvement in the plot and extends the 
complicity to Cuba. "Oswald's" original intention had been "to complete 
our business" at the Soviet Embassy in Cuba, which he says was more pre- 
pared to deal with him (prior to his return to Dallas for the plot's count- 
down). However, in lieu of his failure to obtain a Cuban visa, Oswald is 
saying he was forced to take up "our business" directly with Soviet assassi- 
nations manager Kostikov in Mexico City. As we have already seen, a melo- 
dramatic, CIA-monitored Oswald in Mexico City had tried to obtain an 
immediate Cuban visa. His letter arriving at the Soviet Embassy in Wash- 
ington on November 18 now attempts to document the presumed assassin's 
frustrated objective in Mexico City in September — to travel then to the much 
safer environment of Communist-controlled Havana in order "to complete 
our business" with the Soviets. 

The letter's fourth paragraph states: 

"Of corse [sic] the Soviet embassy was not at fault, they were, as I say 

Washington and Dallas 


unprepared, the Cuban consulate was guilty of a gross breach of regulations, 
I am glad he has since been replced [s/c]." 

"Oswald" here displays his insider's awareness of Cuban diplomatic busi- 
ness. The Cuban consul, Eusebio Azcue, had vigorously ejected provocateur 
Oswald (or an impostor) from the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City on Sep- 
tember 27. In his letter to the Russians, the offended Oswald expresses his 
righteous indignation at "the Cuban consulate" for his "gross breach of reg- 
ulations." However, he is satisfied that Azcue is now no longer the consul. 
Eusebio Azcue was in fact replaced as the Cuban consul in Mexico City on 
November 18, 38 the same day on which the Oswald letter arrived at the 
Soviet Embassy in Washington. Oswald, set up to be the scapegoat in Dal- 
las, is here telegraphing his accurate foreknowledge of the workings of 
Cuba's Communist government — another strike against him. 

As was true of all mail sent to the Soviet Embassy, the Oswald letter was 
intercepted, opened, and copied by the FBI before its eventual delivery to the 
embassy. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover described the secret process to the 
new president, Lyndon Johnson, in a phone call at 10:01 A.M., Saturday, 
November 23. This was the same call in which, as we saw in chapter 2, 
Hoover presented Johnson with evidence from Mexico City of either a 
Cuban-Soviet plot with Oswald to kill Kennedy or (more likely) the CIA's 
impersonation of Oswald in its own plot. In the midst of his trying to deal 
with those unpalatable alternatives, Johnson also heard Hoover say: 

"We do have a copy of a letter which was written by Oswald to the Soviet 
Embassy here in Washington inquiring as well as complaining about the 
harassment of his wife and the questioning of his wife by the FBI. Now, of 
course, that letter information, we process all mail that goes to the Soviet 
embassy — it's a very secret operation. No mail is delivered to the Embassy 
without being examined and opened by us, so that we know what they 
receive." 39 

Hoover may have suspected already that the Oswald letter, like the Mex- 
ico City story that it furthered, was a CIA fabrication with dangerous impli- 
cations. In his conversation with Johnson, he soft-pedals the letter by 
characterizing it in terms of its less significant passages, in which "Oswald" 
complains about the FBI's "questioning of his wife." 40 Hoover leaves unmen- 
tioned the presumed assassin's "Kostin "/Kostikov connection in Mexico City 
that on the face of it indicates a Soviet-Oswald conspiracy. 

When Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in Dallas and was fingered by the 
U.S. media as the president's assassin, top-level Soviet officials realized that 
the Oswald letter that had arrived at their Embassy on November 18 had 
probably been designed to set them up. The Soviets' response to the predica- 
ment that they recognized right after Dallas was not revealed until the end 
of the twentieth century, after the Soviet Union had fallen. It was the high- 
light of long-secret Soviet documents on the JFK assassination that Russian 
president Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly gave to U.S. president Bill Clinton at 
their meeting in Germany in June 1999. 41 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

As revealed by those archival Soviet documents that Clinton received, it 
was on Tuesday, November 26, 1963, the day after President John F. 
Kennedy's funeral, that Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin sent a "Top 
Secret/Highest Priority" telegram from Washington to Moscow. Its subject 
was the suspicious Oswald letter received by the Soviet Embassy four days 
before the assassination. 

Dobrynin cabled Moscow: 

"Please note Oswald's letter of November 9, the text of which was trans- 
mitted to Moscow over the line of nearby neighbors [for security reasons]. 

"This letter was clearly a provocation: it gives the impression we had close 
ties with Oswald and were using him for some purposes of our own. It was 
totally unlike any other letters the embassy had previously received from 
Oswald. Nor had he ever visited our embassy himself. The suspicion that 
the letter is a forgery is heightened by the fact that it was typed, whereas the 
other letters the embassy had received from Oswald before were handwrit- 

"One gets the definite impression that the letter was concocted by those 
who, judging from everything, are involved in the President's assassination. 
It is possible that Oswald himself wrote the letter as it was dictated to him, 
in return for some promises, and then, as we know, he was simply bumped 
off after his usefulness had ended. 

"The competent U.S. authorities are undoubtedly aware of this letter, since 
the embassy's correspondence is under constant surveillance. However, they 
are not making use of it for the time being. Nor are they asking the embassy 
for any information about Oswald himself; perhaps they are waiting for 
another moment." 42 (emphasis in Russian original) 

"The competent U.S. authorities," beginning with Lyndon Johnson and J. 
Edgar Hoover, were indeed aware of the provocative letter that the Soviets, 
for their part, knew had passed under U.S. intelligence agencies' constant 
surveillance of their correspondence. As we know, Hoover brought the let- 
ter to Johnson's attention in the midst of LBJ's first morning as president. 
Dobrynin not only identified the letter as a clear provocation, forged by 
Kennedy's assassins (or perhaps dictated to Oswald "in return for some 
promises" before "he was simply bumped off"). The Soviet ambassador also 
discerned the momentary uncertainty in "the competent U.S. authorities" as 
to how to handle the dubious Mexico City evidence represented by the let- 
ter. Would the U.S. government, now under Lyndon Johnson's leadership, 
go along with scapegoating the Soviet Union for Kennedy's assassination, as 
the planners of the murder scenario had apparently arranged? 

While the Soviet leaders pondered this question and their own response 
to having been set up, Johnson decided to reject the CIA-doctored Mexico 
City evidence of a Soviet plot. He was intensely aware of the pressures for 
war that the disclosure of a Communist plot to murder Kennedy would 
bring. Just how much Mexico City was on Johnson's mind his first full day 
as president is revealed in a memorandum that CIA director John McCone 

Washington and Dallas 


dictated two days later. 43 After Hoover's disturbing phone call at 10:01 A.M., 
the new president met at 12:30 P.M. with McCone specifically to be filled in 
further on "the information received from Mexico City." 44 Mexico City 
became Johnson's jumping off point for the Warren Commission. Johnson 
cited the Mexico City information as the basis for his fear of nuclear war and 
his need for a Special Commission to both Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl 
Warren and newly appointed Warren Commission member, Senator Richard 
Russell. 45 He told Russell: "And we've got to take this [question of Kennedy's 
assassination] out of the [Mexico City] arena where they're testifying that 
Khrushchev and Castro did this and did that and kicking us into a war that 
can kill forty million Americans in an hour." 46 

The Warren Commission would ensure a lone-assassin cover-up of the 
conspiracy evidence the new president was facing. That would free Johnson 
from his dilemma arising from the Mexico City evidence of having to con- 
front either the Soviet Union as the assassination's biggest scapegoat or the 
CIA as its actual perpetrator. To Johnson's credit, he refused to let the Sovi- 
ets take the blame for Kennedy's murder; to his discredit, he decided not to 
confront the CIA over what it had done in Mexico City. Thus, while the sec- 
ondary purpose of the assassination plot was stymied, its primary purpose 
was achieved. The presidency was returned to the control of Cold War inter- 
ests, priorities, and profits. Not only was JFK dead, but so was his break- 
through with Khrushchev. In allowing the assassination to go unchallenged, 

Kennedy's successor in the White House consented to the total cover-up of 
both JFK's murder and his turn toward peace with the Communists. 

Ambassador Dobrynin recommended in his November 26 telegram to 
Moscow that the Soviet government pass on to U.S. authorities Oswald's 
last letter, "because if we don't pass it on, the organizers of this entire provo- 
cation could use this fact to try casting suspicion on us. " 47 

Anastas I. Mikoyan, first deputy chairman of the Soviet council of minis- 
ters, wired back his agreement with Dobrynin: 

"You may send [U.S. Secretary of State Dean] Rusk photocopies of the 
correspondence between the embassy and Oswald, including his letter of 
November 9, but without waiting for a request by the U.S. authorities. When 
sending the photocopies, say that the letter of November 9 was not received 
by the embassy until November 18; obviously it had been held up some- 
where. The embassy had suspicions about this letter the moment it arrived; 
either it was a forgery or was sent as a deliberate provocation. The embassy 
left Oswald's letter unanswered." 48 

By turning over the "Oswald letter" to the United States, the Soviets over- 
turned its potential propaganda damage. The Soviet leaders served notice 
they would not be intimidated. The letter was an obvious counterfeit that 
pointed a finger in the opposite direction from the letter's recipients. Lang- 
ley had more to fear from its public disclosure than did Moscow. 

The U.S. government had already recognized that unfortunate fact. Once 
Johnson and his government in tow had decided to reject the Mexico City 

JFK and the Unspeakable 

evidence as too explosive, the Warren Commission was given a contradictory 
mandate. What Johnson told Russell he wanted the Special Commission to 
do was to "look at the facts and bring in any other facts you want in here 
and determine who killed the president." 49 However, as he emphasized to 
Russell, Johnson wanted even more to take the question of Kennedy's assas- 
sination "out of the [Mexico City] arena," where the evidence apparently 
implicated the Soviet Union in the foreground but in reality the CIA in the 
background. The Warren Commission's impossible task, "for the sake of 
national security" (meaning the protection of U.S. intelligence agencies from 
national disgrace and their leaders from criminal indictments), was to make 
a convincing, heavily documented case for a lone-assassin conclusion. To do 
so, the commission would have to cover up especially the critical Mexico 
City evidence that had so alarmed Lyndon Johnson in his first hours as pres- 

The CIA-planted "Oswald letter" dated November 9, that the Soviet 
Embassy received on November 18 and recognized as a fraud, had back- 
fired. The Soviet ambassador's formal diplomatic return of the letter to the 
U.S. government made the document a part of the official record. If the Soviet 
leaders chose to do so, they could make that diplomatic process, and the let- 
ter itself, public. The U.S. government was in a bind. The (more and more 
obviously) phony letter had to be covered up or explained away. The Amer- 
ican public it was originally designed to fool might be led instead to the real 
assassins. How could that cover-up, or cover explanation of a CIA-planted 
letter, be accomplished? 

he Warren Commission's star witness against Lee Harvey Oswald, other 
than his widow, Marina, was Ruth Paine. As we saw, it was Ruth and 
Michael Paine who became the Oswalds' benefactors after George de 
Mohrenschildt left Dallas. It was Ruth Paine who arranged for Oswald's job 
at the Texas School Book Depository in October 1963. And it was Ruth 
Paine whose Warren Commission testimony also put a different spin on the 
Oswald letter that was threatening to uncover the CIA in the president's 

In March 1964, four months after the Soviet Embassy turned over the let- 
ter to the United States, identifying it as a forgery or a deliberate provoca- 
tion, Ruth Paine testified that on Saturday, November 9, 1963, she had seen 
Oswald type the letter in her home on her typewriter. Besides giving an eye- 
witness account of Oswald actually writing the letter, her testimony placed 
on record a different version of the letter from the one the Soviets had 
received. The new, U.S.-government-preferred version of the letter came, in 
Paine's testimony, in the form of a rough draft that she said Oswald left acci- 
dentally on her secretary desk. 

Paine testified that, although "my tendency is to be very hesitant to look 
into other people's things," 50 she secretly read Oswald's folded, handwritten 

Washington and Dallas 

draft of the letter left on her desk, while he was out of the room on the morn- 
ing after he typed the final version. She copied the rough draft by hand while 
he was taking a shower. She said that, while "I am not used to subterfuge in 
any way," 51 she subsequently took his draft of the letter and hid it in her 
desk, so she could give it to the FBI the next time they came to see her. 52 
Paine said she became curious about the letter in the first place because 

Oswald had moved something over his handwritten draft, apparently to keep 
her from reading it while he was typing. Yet she then describes him as hav- 
ing left the draft sitting out on her desk for days, thereby giving her the 
opportunity to copy it, take it, and hide it until she could give it to the FBI. 
According to Paine, Oswald had become oblivious of the draft he had sup- 
posedly been anxious to keep her from seeing. 53 

Apart from the inconsistencies in Ruth Paine's story, there is a more seri- 
ous question at issue. The draft of Oswald's letter that Paine claimed she hid 
from him and gave to the FBI has, as a result, been put on record by the 
Warren Commission as the more definitive version of the letter that was 
received by the Soviet Embassy four days before President Kennedy's assas- 
sination. The words that the writer crossed out in the draft have been used 
to reinterpret the typed letter, in terms of Oswald's intentions. Yet the draft 
stands in significant contrast to the provocative letter that was sent to the 
Soviets. Moreover, the draft shows internal evidence of having been written 
by someone other than Oswald, perhaps even months after the typed version 
of the letter. The purpose of such a forged, more innocuous "draft" would 
have been to defuse the explosive Oswald-Soviet Mexico City connection 
that Lyndon Johnson rejected and that, on close examination, could lead 
dangerously back to the CIA. 

In an article comparing the letter that the Soviet Embassy received with its 
supposed draft, researcher Jerry Rose pointed to an odd reversal of the dif- 
ferences in spelling between the two documents, both supposedly written by 
the notoriously bad speller, Oswald. 54 While the handwritten version has 
only three errors that are corrected in the typed letter, there are twice as many 
changes from correct to faulty spelling. The results are the opposite of what 
one would expect to see in the transition from a draft to a more carefully 
done, typed version. In terms of composition, it looks as if the typewritten 

version preceded the draft. 

More significantly, the paragraphs in the draft are rearranged so as to de- 
emphasize Oswald's contacts with the Soviet and Cuban embassies, empha- 
sizing instead his differences with the FBI. 55 The draft has also replaced words 
that suggested a Soviet conspiracy, "time to complete our business" (con- 
juring up a sinister "business" with "comrade Kostin "/Kostikov and the 
Soviet Embassy that was never explained in the typewritten letter) with 
words that provide an innocent explanation, "time to assist me" (an "assis- 
tance" whose nonconspiratorial travel purpose is explained in the draft with 
the crossed-out words, "would have been able to get the necessary docu- 
ments I required"). 56 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Using the draft as its means of interpretation, the Warren Report tried to 
explain away the all-too-revealing Oswald letter that the Soviet Embassy 
received on November 18: "Some light on [the letter's] possible meaning can 
be shed by comparing it with the early draft. When the differences between 
the draft and the final document are studied, and especially when crossed-out 
words are taken into account, it becomes apparent that Oswald was inten- 
tionally beclouding the true state of affairs in order to make his trip to Mex- 
ico sound as mysterious and important as possible. 

". . .In the opinion of the Commission, based upon its knowledge of 
Oswald, the letter constitutes no more than a clumsy effort to ingratiate him- 
self with the Soviet Embassy." 57 

By reading the typed letter in terms of its very different draft, the Warren 
Commission tried to reduce the explosive meaning of the letter sent to the 
Soviet Embassy to nothing more than an Oswald ego-trip. What could be 
seen as a probably fraudulent, dangerously revealing letter was explained 
away in retrospect by another probably fraudulent, also revealing draft of the 
same letter. 

The equally suspicious, "original" handwritten draft that had become the 
interpretive key to what Oswald wrote to the Soviet Embassy then became 
accessible to only one person. The members of the Warren Commission 
decided to give the original document, supposedly written by Oswald, back 
to Ruth Paine, at her request. They did so in May 1964, four months before 
they issued their official report drawing on that same document as key evi- 
dence. 58 

The Warren Commission included some of the shrewdest lawyers in the 
country, headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. They knew the 
legal importance of preserving the evidence in the assassination of the pres- 
ident of the United States. They nevertheless authorized almost immediately, 
at the request of the privileged witness who introduced it into evidence, the 
return to her of a handwritten letter she claimed to have taken secretly from 
the reputed assassin, just before he (supposedly) sent its conspiratorial, typed 
version to the Soviet Embassy. 

The Warren Commission then cited in its Report the draft it no longer 
possessed to cover up the fraudulent Oswald letter that was designed to set 
up the Soviets. However, because it left too obvious a trail, the letter to the 
Soviet Embassy still threatened ultimately to blow open the CIA's conspiracy 
against both President Kennedy and the Soviet Union. 

ow real was the threat to use President Kennedy's assassination as the jus- 
tification for an attack on Cuba and the Soviet Union? 
When we take off our Warren Commission blinders, we can see that the 
letter sent to the Soviet Embassy was designed to implicate the Soviets and 
Cubans in the murder of the president of the United States. That was the 
apparent tactic of a twofold, winner-take-all plot: a plot to assassinate the 

Washington and Dallas 

president who was prepared to negotiate an end to the Cold War, intertwined 
with a deeper plot to use fraudulent proof of the U.S.S.R.'s and Cuba's 
responsibility for that assassination so as to justify the option of preemptive 
strikes on those same two Communist nations. 

President Kennedy encountered that kind of push for a nuclear first strike 
against the Soviet Union from the beginning of his presidency. While such a 
"winning strategy" was becoming a top-secret, military priority, the pressures 
on Kennedy to approve it were so intense that it took a contemplative monk 

in the silence of his Kentucky monastery to recognize and articulate the truth. 

In the first half of 1962 as the Cuban Missile Crisis drew nearer, Thomas 
Merton shared his intuition about the increasing danger of a U.S. preemp- 
tive strike with as many people as he could. It was a recurring theme in his 
mimeographed manuscript, Peace in the Post -Christian Era, that he sent to 
a host of friends (including Ethel Kennedy). He wrote in that prophetic text: 
"There can be no question that at the time of writing what seems to be the 
most serious and crucial development in the policy of the United States is 
this indefinite but growing assumption of the necessity of a first strike." 59 

As Merton sensed rightly from the hills of Kentucky, the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff in Washington, D.C., were in fact pressing their young commander-in- 
chief, John F. Kennedy, to support the strategic necessity of a first strike. 
They first did so in the summer of 1961, in a National Security Council meet- 
ing whose significance remained deeply hidden until the declassification of a 
top-secret document in 1994. Economist James K. Galbraith, the son of 
Kennedy's friend and ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, co- 
authored an article that used the newly disclosed document to expose the 
nuclear first-strike agenda of Kennedy's military chiefs. 60 

At the July 20, 1961, NSC meeting, General Hickey, chairman of the "Net 
Evaluation Subcommittee" of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented a plan for 
a nuclear surprise attack on the Soviet Union "in late 1963, preceded by a 
period of heightened tensions." 61 Other presenters of the preemptive strike 
plan included General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff, and CIA director Allen Dulles. Vice President Lyndon Johnson's mili- 
tary aide, Howard Burris, wrote a memorandum on the meeting for Johnson, 

who was not present. 

According to the Burris memorandum, President Kennedy raised a series 
of questions in response to the first-strike presentation he heard. He asked 
about a preemptive attack's likely damage to the U.S.S.R., its impact if 
launched in 1962, and how long U.S. citizens would have to remain in fall- 
out shelters following such an attack. 62 While the Burris memorandum is 
valuable in its revelation of the first-strike agenda, it does not mention 
Kennedy's ultimate disgust with the entire process. We know that fact first 
from its disclosure in an oral history by Roswell Gilpatric, JFK's Deputy Sec- 
retary of Defense. Gilpatric described the meeting's abrupt conclusion: 
"Finally Kennedy got up and walked right out in the middle of it, and that 
was the end of it." 63 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Kennedy's disgusted reaction to this National Security Council meeting 
was also recorded in books written by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., McGeorge 
Bundy, and Dean Rusk. 64 None of them, however, identified the first-strike 
focus of the meeting that prompted the disgust. They describe the meeting in 
only the most general terms as "the Net Evaluation, an annual doomsday 
briefing analyzing the chances of nuclear war" (Schlesinger) 65 or "a formal 

briefing on the net assessment of a general nuclear war between the two 
superpowers" (Bundy). 66 However, as much as JFK was appalled by a gen- 
eral nuclear war, his walkout was in response to a more specific evil in his 
own ranks: U.S. military and CIA leaders were enlisting his support for a 
plan to launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. 

Kennedy didn't just walk out. He also said what he thought of the entire 
proceeding. As he led Rusk back to the Oval Office, with what Rusk 
described as "a strange look on his face," Kennedy turned and said to his Sec- 
retary of State, "And we call ourselves the human race." 67 

"And we call ourselves the human race" was directed especially at the 
"we," himself included, who had been seriously discussing a preemptive 
nuclear strike on millions of other humans, at least until he was so revolted 
by the process that he had to leave the room. His walkout could not have 
pleased his military and CIA chiefs. 

Nevertheless, the judgment Kennedy made, "And we call ourselves the 
human race," continued to apply to himself, as he became increasingly 
ensnared in his national security state's nuclear war plans. 

In the late winter of 1962, Thomas Merton was finishing writing Peace in 
the Post- Christian Era, at the same time as Kennedy was being overcome by 
mounting Cold War pressures. Merton could see what was happening. He 
wrote then that "the influence of the hard school is more and more evident. 
Whereas President Kennedy used to assert that the United States would 'never 
strike first' he is now declaring that 'we may have to take the initiative' in the 
use of nuclear weapons." 68 

What Merton was alluding to was an alarming statement Kennedy had 
made in March 1962 to journalist Stewart Alsop for a Saturday Evening 
Post article. What Alsop wrote from his JFK interview was: 

"Khrushchev must not be certain that, where its vital interests are threat- 
ened, the United States will never strike first. As Kennedy says, 'in some cir- 
cumstances we might have to take the initiative.'" 69 

Kennedy's statement shocked Khrushchev. As soon as JFK's first-strike 
quote was headlined across the world, the Kremlin ordered a special military 
alert. 70 When Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, visited Khrushchev 
in Moscow in May, the chairman told Salinger how disturbed he was by the 

Salinger replied that Kennedy had meant only "our options in the event 
of a major conventional attack [by the Soviet Union] on Western Europe." 71 
It was true the article had placed Kennedy's remarks in that context. Even so, 
the implications of a first use of nuclear weapons in any conflict went far 
beyond Europe. 

Washington and Dallas 

Khrushchev, who had spoken warmly of Kennedy up to that point, dis- 
missed Salinger's defense of him. He said, "Not even Eisenhower or Dulles 
would have made the statement your president made. He now forces us to 
reappraise our own position." 72 

Khrushchev then made just such a "reappraisal." Two days after Salinger 
left Moscow, while Khrushchev was on a trip to Bulgaria, he thought for the 
first time of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. 73 His idea was, first of all, to 
deter the United States from invading Cuba. After all, the United States had 

its missiles in Turkey, on the border of the Soviet Union. 74 But it was 
Kennedy's first-strike statement that helped spark Khrushchev's reappraisal 
of the Soviet position. 

During Salinger's long talks with Khrushchev in May 1962, the Soviet 

leader also made it clear that he and Kennedy could choose together a dif- 
ferent path from the perilous one they were then taking (which would climax 
five months later in the Missile Crisis). He recounted for Salinger with satis- 
faction his and Kennedy's peaceful resolution of the tanks crisis at the Berlin 
Wall in 1961, which we have already seen. 

Khrushchev said he had told his Defense Minister, Marshal Rodion Mali- 
novsky, "to back up our tanks a little bit and hide them behind buildings 
where the Americans couldn't see them. If we do this, I said to Malinovsky, 
the American tanks will also move back within twenty minutes and we will 
have no more crisis." 

Khrushchev grinned at Salinger. "It was just as I said it would be. We 
pulled back. You pulled back. Now that's generalship!" 75 

Khrushchev's generous retreat at the Berlin Wall, made in response to a 
back-channel appeal by Kennedy, 76 would be repeated in the Cuban Missile 

As we saw, the pressures on Kennedy for an attack on the Soviet missile 
sites in Cuba were overwhelming, from both his military and civilian advis- 
ers. He resisted those pressures and instead worked out the mutual conces- 
sions with Khrushchev that resolved the crisis. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were 
infuriated by his steadfast refusal to launch an attack. 

The president said to Arthur Schlesinger, "The military are mad. They 
wanted to do this." 77 By "this" he meant an attack on Cuba, perhaps involv- 
ing also a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union. For the Joint Chiefs, 
Kennedy's peaceful resolution of the crisis with Khrushchev meant a lost 
opportunity to defeat the enemy, the best opportunity they ever had to "win" 
the Cold War. 

Following the peaceful outcome of the Missile Crisis, during the year 
Kennedy had left as president, he resisted his military command's continu- 
ing pressures for a preemptive strike strategy. 

One month after the Missile Crisis, the Joint Chiefs pushed for a buildup 
in U.S. strategic forces to a disarming first-strike capability. On November 
20, 1962, they sent a memorandum to Secretary of Defense McNamara stat- 
ing: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that a first-strike capability is both 
feasible and desirable . . ." 78 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

McNamara, reflecting what he knew was Kennedy's position, wrote the 
president on the same day about the challenge they faced: "It has become 
clear to me that the Air Force proposals, both for the RS-70 [Bomber] and 
for the rest of their Strategic Retaliatory Forces, are based on the objective 
of achieving a first-strike capability." 79 McNamara told the president what 
was at issue with the Air Force was whether U.S. forces should "attempt to 
achieve a capability to start a thermonuclear war in which the resulting dam- 
age to ourselves and our Allies could be considered acceptable on some rea- 
sonable definition of the term." 80 McNamara said he believed that a 
first-strike capability "should be rejected as a U.S. policy objective," and that 
the U.S. should not augment its forces for a first-strike capability. 81 

Two months before Kennedy's assassination, the president was given 
another "Net Evaluation Subcommittee Report" on preemptive war plan- 
ning. This time around, Kennedy was prepared by two years of struggle with 
his military commanders for what he was about to hear. This time he was not 
about to walk out on them. 

State Department historians have reported that the "Net Evaluation Sub- 
committee Report" that was presented to President Kennedy at the Septem- 
ber 12, 1963, National Security Council Meeting "has not been found." 82 
However, we do have a revealing record of the meeting's discussion. 83 As in 
1961, the evident premise of the report is a U.S. first strike against the Soviet 

After he heard the Net Subcommittee Report from General Maxwell Tay- 
lor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Kennedy engaged in a cat-and- 
mouse game with his generals. He opened the discussion with a question 
whose premise was the first-strike strategy he knew they wanted in place. 
Yet its judge, under his euphemism, "political leaders," was himself, their 
deeply resistant commander-in-chief. 

The president asked, "Even if we attack the USSR first, would the loss to 
the U.S. be unacceptable to political leaders?" 

Air Force general Leon Johnson, representing the Net Subcommittee, 
answered, "It would be. Even if we preempt, surviving Soviet capability is 
sufficient to produce an unacceptable loss in the U.S." 84 

Kennedy could only have been relieved by Johnson's reply. The window 
of opportunity for a "successful" U.S. preemptive strike on the Soviets by 
Kennedy's generals was apparently closed. The U.S.S.R. had by now appar- 
ently deployed too many missiles in hardened underground silos for superior 
U.S. forces to be able to destroy a retaliatory force in a first strike. That 
meant Kennedy's military command could not pressure him with the same 
urgency for a preemptive strike. However, as we shall see, Johnson's answer 
was deceptive in terms of the time span it covered. 

Kennedy pressed his advantage by asking Johnson, "Are we then in fact 
in a period of nuclear stalemate?" 

General Johnson admitted that we were. 

The President said, "I have read the statement in this morning's paper by 

Washington and Dallas 


the Air Force Association recommending nuclear superiority. What do they 

mean by 'nuclear superiority versus nuclear stalemate'? How could you get 
superiority?" 85 

Kennedy knew very well what the Air Force Association meant by 
"nuclear superiority versus nuclear stalemate." The Committee of the Air 
Force Association was pushing for the same first-strike capability that the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff had long advocated. Kennedy wanted Johnson's com- 
ment on a policy that the Air Force Association, like the Joint Chiefs, was 
pursuing without saying so against a resistant president. 

General Johnson said carefully, measuring his words, "I believe the mem- 
bers of the Committee of the Air Force Association which drafted the reso- 
lution did not have the facts as brought out in the report being presented at 
this time." 86 

According to the minutes of the meeting, General Johnson, under the pres- 
ident's persistent questioning, then "acknowledged that it would be impos- 
sible for us to achieve nuclear superiority." 87 

Defense Secretary McNamara interjected to reinforce the president's case 
against a preemptive strike. He said, "Even if we spend $80 billion more [for 
shelters and increased weapons systems] than we are now spending, we 
would still have at least 30 million casualties in the U.S. in the 1968 time 
period, even if we made the first strike against the USSR." 88 

The president said, "Those fatality figures are much higher than I heard 
recently in Omaha. As I recall, SAC [Strategic Air Command] estimated that, 
if we preempt, we would have 12 million casualties." 89 

Kennedy was probing his military command for the truth behind their 
statistical efforts to advance a first-strike policy. In the Vietnam War, their fig- 
ures had been manufactured to fit their arguments for the deployment of 
U.S. troops. 

He pressed on, saying, "Why do we need as much as we've got? De Gaulle 
believes even the small nuclear force he is planning will be big enough to 
cause unacceptable damage to the USSR." 90 

General Johnson tried to explain to his skeptical commander-in-chief that 
they could bring down the number of casualties "by undertaking additional 
weapons programs." Kennedy wasn't buying it. 

"Doesn't that just get us into the overkill business?" he asked. 91 

General Johnson countered, "No, sir. We can cut down U.S. losses if we 
knock out more Soviet missiles by having more U.S. missiles and more accu- 
rate U.S. missiles. The more Soviet missiles we can destroy the less the loss 
to us." 92 

Kennedy's questions were smoking out the underlying purpose of the 
"additional weapons programs" the Joint Chiefs were urging on him. The 
"more missiles and more accurate missiles" they wanted would be further 
steps toward a U.S. capability to destroy the Soviet retaliatory force in a dis- 
arming first strike before it could be launched. 

Under Kennedy's questioning gaze, Johnson then made explicit the con- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

sequences and the purpose of the Joint Chiefs' thinking. He said, "Each of 
the [Net report] strategies used against the USSR resulted in at least 140 mil- 
lion fatalities in the USSR. Our problem is how to catch more of the Soviet 
missiles before they are launched and how to destroy more of the missiles in 
the air over the U.S." 93 

This was roughly the point at which Kennedy had walked out in disgust 
two years earlier, saying to Rusk, "And we call ourselves the human race." 
Both then and now, it had become clear that a nuclear first strike meant geno- 
cide to the people attacked. Now in September 1963, the National Security 
Council had once again reached the point of blandly considering the killing 
of 140 million Soviet citizens in a U.S. effort to beat their leaders to the 
nuclear punch. 

However, this time Kennedy did not walk out on his military command- 
ers. He continued to probe their preemptive-war planning. He wanted to 
know as much as he could, for a purpose different from theirs. His purpose 
in terms of people, as opposed to their purpose in terms of missiles, was how 
to keep such a slaughter from ever happening. 

McNamara reiterated, on behalf of Kennedy, that "there was no way of 
launching a no-alert attack against the USSR which would be acceptable. 
No such attack, according to the calculations, could be carried out without 
30 million U.S. fatalities — an obviously unacceptable number." 94 

McNamara added, "The President deserves an answer to his question as 
to why we have to have so large a force." 

The painfully obvious answer was that the Joint Chiefs wanted to be able 
to preempt the Soviets. Kennedy, on the other hand, saw such an option as 
a danger within his own government. 

McNamara, caught between his president and his military chiefs, tried to 
explain away their conflict. He said, "The answer lies in the fact that there 
are many uncertainties in the equations presented in today's report." 95 

The president shifted gears. He asked why the Soviet Union "does have a 

smaller force" than the U.S., implying that the U.S. might want to follow 

their example rather than vice versa. 

After granting that the Soviets might think they had enough to deter the 

U.S., General Johnson said apprehensively, "I would be very disturbed if the 
President considered this report indicated that we could reduce our forces 
and/or not continue to increase to those programmed. If a reduction should 
take place, the relative position of the U.S. and Soviets would become less in 
our favor." 96 

Kennedy, who wanted to negotiate an end to the Cold War with the Sovi- 
ets, said to his general, "I understand." 

After further discussion, JFK summed up the meeting in a s hopeful a way 
as he could to his entrenched military command: "Preemption is not possi- 
ble for us. This is a valuable conclusion growing out of an excellent report." 97 

He also said, "This argues in favor of a conventional force [rather than 
nuclear weapons]." 98 

Washington and Dallas 


General Johnson differed, saying, "I have concluded from the calculations 
[showing U.S. nuclear dominance] that we could fight a limited war using 
nuclear weapons without fear that the Soviets would reply by going to all- 
out war. " " 

Kennedy was familiar with arguments designed to lure him past the point 
of no return. He said, "I have been told that if I ever released a nuclear 
weapon on the battlefield, I should start a pre-emptive attack on the Soviet 
Union as the use of nuclear weapons was bound to escalate and we might as 
well get the advantage by going first." 100 

If the president's listeners did not agree with where he came out on the Net 
report, his questions had at least brought their preemptive-war thinking to 
the surface. However, he had also raised one particular question to which the 
National Security Council gave no answer at all. It bore on the strategic sit- 
uation in the fall of 1963. 

Kennedy had asked, in the middle of the discussion, "What about the case 
of preempting today with the Soviets in a low state of alert?" 101 

McNamara was the only person who ventured a reply. He said, "In the 
studies I have had done for me, I have not found a situation in which a pre- 
empt during a low-alert condition would be advantageous . . ." 102 

An unidentified reporter of this National Security Council meeting added 
a parenthetical comment, after McNamara's name and before his above 
statement: "(Today's situation not actually answered.)" 103 

Nor did any of Kennedy's other advisers offer an opinion in response to 
his question about a U.S. preemptive strike at the particular time in which 
they were then living. Moreover, their discussion of a preemptive war had 
been carried out, from beginning to end, in relation to a projected time 
scheme of 1964 through 1968. The situation in the remaining three and one- 
half months of 1963 was a question left untouched, even after Kennedy 
explicitly raised it. 

As JFK may have recalled from the National Security Council meeting he 
walked out of in July 1961, the first Net Evaluation Subcommittee report 
had focused precisely on "a surprise attack in late 1963, preceded by a period 
of heightened tensions." 104 Kennedy was a keen reader and listener. In the sec- 
ond preemptive-war report, he may also have noticed the slight but signifi- 
cant discrepancy between its overall time frame, 1 963-1968, and the extent 
of its relatively reassuring conclusion, which covered only 1964 through 

Although the Net report itself "has not been found," according to State 
Department historians, 105 nevertheless a memorandum that described it has 
been discovered. Addressed to National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy 
two weeks before the September 12, 1963, NSC meeting, the memorandum 
by Colonel W. Y. Smith stated: "the [Net] briefing will cover the results of the 
studies of a series of general wars initiated earlier during the period 1 963 
through 1968 . . . Probably the major NESC conclusion is that during the 
years 1 964 through 1968 neither the US nor the USSR can emerge from a full 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

nuclear exchange without suffering very severe damage and high casualties, 
no matter which side initiates the war." 106 

In his cat-and-mouse questioning of his military chiefs, President Kennedy 
had built upon the report's apparently reassuring conclusion in such a way 
as to discourage preemptive- war ambitions. However, given the "late 1963" 
focus in the first Net Report that was the most threatening time for a pre- 
emptive strike, Kennedy had little reason to be reassured by a second report 
that implicitly confirmed that time as the one of maximum danger. The per- 
sonally fatal fall JFK was about to enter, in late 1963, was the same time his 
military commanders may have considered their last chance to "win" (in 
their terms) a preemptive war against the Soviet Union. In terms of their sec- 
ond Net Report to the president, which passed over the perilous meaning of 
late 1963, the cat-and-mouse game had been reversed. It was the generals 
who were the cats, and JFK the mouse in their midst. 

The explicit assumption of the first Net Report was "a surprise attack in 
late 1963, preceded by a period of heightened tensions." 107 The focus of that 
first-strike scenario corresponded to the Kennedy assassination scenario. 
When President Kennedy was murdered in late 1963, the Soviet Union had 
been set up as the major scapegoat in the plot. If the tactic had been suc- 
cessful in scapegoating the Russians for the crime of the century, there is lit- 
tle doubt that it would have resulted in "a period of heightened tensions" 
between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Those who designed the plot to kill Kennedy were familiar with the inner 
sanctum of our national security state. Their attempt to scapegoat the Sovi- 
ets for the president's murder reflected one side of the secret struggle between 
JFK and his military leaders over a preemptive strike against the Soviet 
Union. The assassins' purpose seems to have encompassed not only killing a 
president determined to make peace with the enemy but also using his mur- 
der as the impetus for a possible nuclear first strike against that same enemy. 

he incrimination of Lee Harvey Oswald in advance of the assassination 

continued, even to the point of trying to charter a plane for his apparently 
intended escape to Cuba, an escape that would never happen. 

On Wednesday morning, November 20, 1963, a car with three people in 
it drove into Red Bird Air Field, on the outskirts of Dallas. The car parked 
in front of the office of American Aviation Company, a private airline. A 
heavy-set young man and a young woman got out of the car and entered the 
office, leaving a second young man sitting in the right front passenger seat. 

The man and the woman spoke with American Aviation's owner, Wayne 

January, who rented out small planes. They said they wanted to rent a Cessna 
310 on the afternoon of Friday, November 22. Their destination would be 
the Yucatan Peninsula, in southeast Mexico near Cuba. 108 

The couple asked January unusually detailed questions about the Cessna: 
How far could it go without refueling? What was its speed? Under certain 
wind conditions, would it be able to go on to another location? 

Washington and Dallas 


Wayne January became suspicious. He knew from experience that people 
didn't ask those kinds of questions when they chartered an airplane. 109 Jan- 
uary decided not to rent the Cessna to the couple. He said later that he sus- 
pected from their questions that they might have had in mind hijacking the 
plane to Cuba, just east of the Yucatan Peninsula. 110 That may have been 
exactly what they wanted him to think. 

As the couple left his office, expressing irritation at his rejection of their 
deal, January was curious as to why the other man hadn't come in with them. 
He took a good look at the man sitting in the front passenger seat of the car. 
The following weekend, he recognized on television and in the newspapers 
the man he'd seen with the couple he suspected of wanting to hijack a plane 
to Cuba. Their companion had been Lee Harvey Oswald (or someone who 
bore an exact resemblance to him). 

As was the case when he stood on Sylvia Odio's doorstep between 
Leopoldo and Angel, Oswald at the Red Bird Air Field was nothing more 
than a prop in a scene being played out by two other characters. Yet the 
scene was designed once again to implicate him. Red Bird Air Field was 
located just five miles south of Oswald's apartment, a short drive away on 
the freeway connection. The apparent purpose of the plane-chartering scene, 
two days before the assassination, was to identify Oswald with a covert plan 
to fly to Cuba right after the president's murder. 

Because Lyndon Johnson blocked the scapegoating of the Soviet Union 

and Cuba but failed to confront the CIA, the government also had to cover 
up the Red Bird incident. Like the Odio incident, it was obvious evidence of 
a conspiracy — if not by Soviet or Cuban agents, then by U.S. agents. 

In 1991, when British author Matthew Smith was examining Kennedy 

assassination scholar Harold Weisberg's government documents (obtained 
under the Freedom of Information Act) in the basement of Weisberg's Mary- 
land home, he discovered Wayne January's FBI report on the episode at Red 
Bird Air Field. Smith then visited Dallas and showed the FBI report to Jan- 
uary, who was astounded by what he was described as saying. 111 The FBI 
claimed he said the incident took place in late July 1963, four months before 
the assassination rather than two days. In that greatly lengthened time span, 
the FBI also claimed January was uncertain in his identification of Oswald. 112 

January told Smith that, contrary to the FBI, "It was the Wednesday 
before the assassination." With only two days between his look at the man 
in the car and Oswald's arrest, January said he was so certain of his identi- 
fication of Oswald that he "would give it nine out of ten." 113 

When Smith commented that the Kennedy assassination was a mystery, he 
met with resistance. January leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his 
head. He said, "The CIA was behind this." 114 

Smith said there were other possible involvements to consider. He began 
listing them. January just looked at him, saying nothing. 

When Smith reflected back on January's quiet certitude, he wondered how 

he could be so sure the CIA was behind the assassination. 115 He would learn 
later, as we shall, that Wayne January knew much more than he was saying. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

he assassination of John F. Kennedy was like the sudden coming of a tor- 
nado that sucked people up into death, both Kennedy's death and their 
own. One such victim was a woman who predicted the killing of Kennedy, 
Rose Cheramie. 

A half day after the incident at Red Bird Air Field, on the night of Wednes- 
day, November 20, Louisiana State Police lieutenant Francis Fruge was called 
to Moosa Memorial Hospital in Eunice, Louisiana. There he was given cus- 
tody of Rose Cheramie (also known as Melba Christine Marcades), a heroin 
addict who was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. One of two men with 
whom she was traveling had thrown her out of the Silver Slipper Lounge in 
Eunice earlier that evening. Cheramie had then been hit by a car, suffering 

minor abrasions. 116 

Fruge took Cheramie in an ambulance to East Louisiana State Hospital in 
Jackson for treatment of her withdrawal symptoms. During the two-hour 

trip, she responded to his questions. 

She said she had been driving with the two men from Miami to Dallas 
before they stopped at the lounge in Eunice. She stated: "We're going to kill 
President Kennedy when he comes to Dallas in a few days." 117 Their com- 
bined purpose, she said, was "to number one, pick up some money, pick up 
her baby [being kept by another man], and to kill Kennedy." 118 Because of 
Cheramie's condition, Fruge did not take her words seriously. 

At the East Louisiana State Hospital on November 21, Rose Cheramie 
said again, this time to hospital staff members, that President Kennedy was 
about to be killed in Dallas. 119 

Immediately after Kennedy's assassination, Lieutenant Fruge called the 
hospital, telling them not to release Cheramie until he could question her 
further. When he did so on Monday, November 25, Cheramie described the 
two men driving with her from Miami to Dallas as either Cubans or Ital- 
ians. 120 

As Fruge related Cheramie's story to the House Select Committee on 
Assassinations, "The men were going to kill Kennedy [in Dallas] and she 
was going to check into the Rice Hotel [in Houston], where reservations 
were already made for her, and pick up 10 kilos of heroin from a seaman 
coming into Galveston. She was to pick up the money for the dope from a 
man who was holding her baby. She would then take the dope to Mexico." 121 

How reliable was Rose Cheramie as a witness? The Louisiana State Police 
decided to find out. 

The police checked on parts of Cheramie's story with Nathan Durham, the 
Chief Customs Agent in the Texas region that included Galveston. Durham 
confirmed that the ship with the seaman Cheramie said had the heroin was 
about to dock in Galveston. 122 The seaman was on it. The police checked 
out the man holding the money and Cheramie's baby. He was identified as a 
suspected dealer in drug traffic. 123 Working with Cheramie, the police and 
customs agents tried to follow and trap the seaman when he disembarked 
from his ship in Galveston, but the man eluded them. 124 In any case, key 

Washington and Dallas 


details in Cheramie's story had been confirmed by the police and customs 

Colonel Morgan of the Louisiana State Police phoned Captain Will Fritz 
of the Dallas Police to tell him about Cheramie's prediction of the assassi- 
nation, the confirmed parts of her story, and that the Chief Customs Agent 
in Houston was holding her for further questioning. When Morgan hung up 
from his conversation with Fritz, he turned to the other officers in the room 
and said, "They don't want her. They're not interested." 125 By that time 
Oswald had been captured, jailed, and shot to death by Jack Ruby. The Dal- 
las police wanted no further witnesses to the president's assassination. 

The Chief Customs Agent called FBI agents to pass on the information 
received from Cheramie: Did they want to talk to her? The FBI said it also 
did not want to question Rose Cheramie. 126 

As Cheramie's story was being confirmed, she also told Francis Fruge that 
she used to work for Jack Ruby as a nightclub stripper. She said that as a 
result of her employment by Ruby, she knew Lee Harvey Oswald. Rose 
Cheramie was a witness not only to participants in the Kennedy assassination 
traveling to Dallas but also to Ruby and Oswald knowing each other. She 
said she knew that the two of them had an intimate relationship "for years." 127 
Her testimony, if heard, would have contradicted the Warren Report's asser- 
tions that Ruby and Oswald were lone killers and had never met. 

After both Dallas and federal investigative authorities refused to question 
Rose Cheramie, the Chief Customs Agent released her in Houston, and she 

On September 4, 1965, Rose Cheramie's body was found at 3:00 A.M. on 
Highway 155, 1.7 miles east of Big Sandy, Texas. Cheramie had reportedly 
been run over by a car. 128 Jerry Don Moore, the driver of the car in question, 
said he'd been driving from Big Sandy to his home in Tyler. He suddenly saw 
three or four suitcases lined up in the center of the road. As researcher James 
DiEugenio summarized Moore's story, "He swerved to his right to avoid hit- 
ting [the suitcases]. In front of him was the prone body of a woman lying at 
a 90-degree angle to the highway with her head toward the road. Moore 
applied the brakes as hard as he could." 129 

The investigating officer, J. A. Andrews, stated that Moore said, "although 
he had attempted to avoid running over her, he ran over the top part of her 
skull, causing fatal injuries." 130 Moore, on the contrary, swore he never hit 
Cheramie. 131 He came close to her, stopped, then drove her to the nearest 
doctor in Big Sandy. An ambulance took her from the doctor's to Gladewater 
Hospital, where she was declared dead on arrival. Although Officer Andrews 
expressed uncertainty as to what happened to Cheramie, "due to the fact 
that the relatives of the victim did not pursue the investigation, he closed it 
as accidental death." 132 

Yet how did Rose Cheramie happen to be lying at a 90-degree angle across 
Highway 155 at three in the morning, near suitcases that seemed to be posi- 
tioned to direct an oncoming car over her body? 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Cheramie may in fact have been shot in the head before Jerry Don Moore 
found her on the highway. Records at Gladewater Hospital describe a "deep 
punctate stellate" (starlike) wound to her right forehead. Dr. Charles A. 
Crenshaw commented in his book, JFK: Conspiracy of Silence: "The wound 
to Cheramie's forehead as described, according to medical textbooks, occurs 
in contact gunshot wounds — that is, when a gun barrel is placed against a 
victim's body and discharged. It is especially applicable to a gunshot wound 
of the skull..." 133 

Cheramie's autopsy "cannot be found" according to the responsible 
authorities. 134 Because of the unanswered questions about Cheramie's death, 
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison wanted to exhume her body. 
The local Texas authorities refused to cooperate with Garrison's request. 135 

Following Rose Cheramie's death, her life continued to be a source of 
information on John Kennedy's death. In 1967 the Louisiana State Police 
assigned Lieutenant Francis Fruge to work with Jim Garrison in his investi- 
gation of JFK's murder. Fruge then interviewed the owner of the Silver Slip- 
per Lounge, where Cheramie had been thrown out and hit by a car 
November 20, 1963, before she predicted Kennedy's murder that night. Mac 
Manual had continued to be the owner of the Silver Slipper, a known house 
of prostitution. 

Manual remembered well the night at the Silver Slipper when the two men 
and Rose Cheramie got into a fight. Manual said they had several drinks 
when they arrived. Cheramie "appeared to be intoxicated when she got there. 
She started raising a ruckus. One of the men kind of slapped her around and 
threw her outside." 136 

Manual told Fruge he recognized the two men with Cheramie as soon as 
they walked into the Silver Slipper. He should have. He worked with them. 
They were, he said, "pimps who had been to my place before, hauling pros- 
titutes from Florida and hauling them back." 137 

Lieutenant Fruge had brought with him a stack of photographs from the 
New Orleans District Attorney's office. From the photographs, Mac Manual 
picked out his two business associates in prostitution. They were more than 
that. The two men he identified as having accompanied Rose Cheramie to the 
Silver Slipper were Sergio Arcacha Smith and Emilio Santana, two anti-Cas- 
tro Cuban exiles with CIA credentials. 138 

Emilio Santana admitted in an interview with Jim Garrison's office that the 
CIA hired him on August 27, 1962, the evening of the day he arrived in 
Miami as an exile from his native Cuba. 139 Santana was immediately 
employed by the Agency as a crewmember on a boat sailing back to Cuba, 
carrying weapons and electronic equipment for CIA-sponsored guerrilla 
actions. He was a CIA employee, he said, during 1962 and 1963. 140 As a 
Cuban fisherman, he had intimate knowledge of the Cuban coastline, which 
made him a valuable asset in piloting boats that smuggled CIA operatives in 
and out of Cuba. 141 He acknowledged piloting a boat with a CIA team that 
was off the coast of Cuba for twenty days at the time of the Cuban Missile 

Washington and Dallas 


Crisis. 142 Santana's boat would have been carrying one of the unauthorized 
commando teams that CIA Special Operations organizer William Harvey 
dispatched to Cuba at the height of the Missile Crisis, igniting the fury of 
Robert Kennedy for the CIA's covert provocation of nuclear war. 143 Presi- 
dent Kennedy's refusal then, as at the Bay of Pigs, to attack Cuba, and his 
crisis-resolving pledge to Khrushchev never to do so, provoked a counter- 
anger in the CIA extending down into the exile community that included 
Emilio Santana. 

The CIA's version of its employment of Santana is more modest. When Jim 
Garrison investigated Emilio Santana, a CIA document acknowledged that 
the Agency had in fact recruited him — in October 1962, it said, correspon- 
ding to the time of the Missile Crisis. The document claimed that the Agency 
had terminated Santana's contract after he took part in an infiltration oper- 
ation in May 1963. 144 

The man Mac Manual identified as Rose Cheramie's other companion, 
Sergio Arcacha Smith, had a more commanding role in the CIA's anti-Castro 

Sergio Arcacha Smith had been a prominent Cuban diplomat for the 
Batista regime before it was overthrown by the Cuban revolution led by Fidel 
Castro. As Arcacha stated on his personal resume, he was Cuba's diplomatic 
consul in Madrid, Rome, Mexico City, and Bombay (at the latter station 
under Batista). 145 After he left the diplomatic service, Arcacha had by 1959 
prospered enough as a business executive in Latin America to have his own 
factory in Caracas, Venezuela. 146 He became active there in an anti-Castro 
group, which may have initiated his involvement with the CIA. On June 29, 
1960, he was arrested by the government of Venezuela and charged with 
plotting to assassinate Venezuelan President Ernesto Betancourt. 147 He was 
released on July 14, I960. 148 The American Embassy came to his immediate 
assistance, issuing nonimmigrant visitor visas to him and his family so they 
could depart from Venezuela. 149 

After arriving in the U.S., Arcacha Smith became the New Orleans dele- 
gate of the FRD (Frente Revolucionario Democratico), which a CIA docu- 
ment on Arcacha states "was organized and supported by the Agency." 150 
The FRD "was used," the CIA noted, "as a front for recruitment of Brigade 
2506 for the [Bay of Pigs] invasion." 151 Arcacha admitted in a 1967 poly- 
graph test that he and David Ferrie, while working for the CIA, "helped train 
the Bay of Pigs invasion force with M-l rifles. " 152 When the FRD was phased 
out, Arcacha established a New Orleans chapter of the Cuban Revolution- 
ary Council, 153 the Cuban "government in exile" organized by the CIA. 154 

Guy Banister, the detective/intelligence agent who would guide Oswald 
in the summer of 1963 in New Orleans, also worked closely with Arcacha 
Smith in 1961-62. Banister helped set up an organization to raise funds for 
Arcacha Smith's branch of the Cuban Revolutionary Council. 155 Banister and 
Smith both had their offices in the Baiter Building in New Orleans. 156 They 
moved together in early 1962 to the Newman Building at 544 Camp Street, 157 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the same address that Oswald used for one of his Fair Play for Cuba leaflets 
when he was arrested in New Orleans on August 9, 1963, for disturbing the 
peace. 158 According to Arcadia's New Orleans public relations man, Richard 
Rolfe, Arcacha said frankly to him that he was under the thumb of the CIA, 
which in public he always referred to as the "State Department." 159 

Sergio Arcacha Smith was also seen with Lee Harvey Oswald. David 
Lewis, a former employee of Guy Banister, stated to the New Orleans Dis- 
trict Attorney's Office that he witnessed a meeting in the late summer of 1963 
at Mancuso's Restaurant in New Orleans between Sergio Arcacha Smith, 
Lee Harvey Oswald, and a man named Carlos whose last name Lewis did- 
n't know (who may have been Arcacha's and Oswald's mutual friend, Car- 
los Quiroga). 160 Lewis said Arcacha, Oswald, and Carlos "were involved in 
some business which dealt with Cuba," and that Arcacha "appeared to be 
the boss." 161 

As we have seen, "Arcacha" was the name given by CIA double agent 
Richard Case Nagell to identify one of the participants besides Nagell and 
Oswald in a late August 1963 planning meeting for killing Kennedy. 162 There 
is just one man with the name, Arcacha, who keeps reappearing in the assas- 
sination plot: Sergio Arcacha Smith. 163 

Sergio Arcacha Smith's identification by Mac Manual as one of Rose 
Cheramie's companions, who she said told her they were going to Dallas to 
kill Kennedy, is further evidence that the CIA played an operational role in 
the assassination. Sergio Arcacha Smith in particular had an extensive CIA 
background, including working relationships with Guy Banister, David Fer- 
rie, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Claiming she had been an employee of Jack 
Ruby, Rose Cheramie also testified to Ruby and a man she identified as Lee 
Oswald knowing each other well. Rose Cheramie lived and died as a witness 
to the Unspeakable. 

t the risk of his political future (and his life), John Kennedy continued to 
pursue a secret dialogue toward a rapprochement with Fidel Castro. 
On November 5, 1963, at the White House, U.S. diplomat William 
Attwood briefed National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy on Premier 
Castro's warm response to the process developing behind the scenes at the 
United Nations between Attwood, a deputy to U.S. ambassador Adlai Steven- 
son, and Cuban ambassador Carlos Lechuga. Castro's righthand man, Rene 
Vallejo, said in a phone call to intermediary Lisa Howard that the Cuban 
leader was ready to negotiate with Kennedy's representative "anytime and 
appreciated the importance of discretion to all concerned." 164 Castro enthu- 
siastically offered to expedite the process by sending a plane to pick up 
Attwood in Mexico. Attwood would be flown to a private airport in Cuba 
where he would talk confidentially with Castro and then be flown back 
immediately. 165 

Washington and Dallas 


"In this way," Castro hoped, "there would be no risk of [Attwood's] iden- 
tification at the Havana airport." 166 

After meeting with Attwood, Bundy updated Kennedy on Castro's con- 
crete proposal. Fortunately for history, Kennedy pushed a button under his 
desk to record the private conversation with his National Security Adviser. 167 

Bundy told the president of Castro's invitation to Attwood "to go down 
completely on the QT and talk with Fidel about the chances and conditions 
on which he would be interested in changing relations with the United 

JFK said, "Can Attwood get in and out of there very privately?" 

Bundy shared Castro's logistical planning for the meeting. He acknowl- 
edged the danger of Attwood's close connection with the president. He 
added — to Kennedy's approval — that Attwood as his representative would 
have the advantage of already knowing Castro, having met with him in Cuba 
in the late 50s. 

Kennedy said, "We'd have to have an explanation of why Attwood was 
there. Can we get Attwood off the [government] payroll . . . before he goes?" 

At this point in their conversation, Kennedy's and Bundy's attention was 
diverted by their receiving word of the Russians holding up a British convoy 
on its way to West Berlin. When they returned to the subject of the Castro 
meeting, the president repeated, "I think we ought to have [Attwood] off the 
payroll, because otherwise it's much more difficult." 

The two men agreed. Given the risk o f the Attwood-Castro meeting being 
discovered by the press, Attwood should sever his formal relation with the 
government. Thanks to his reputation as a journalist before his diplomatic 
career, Attwood should carry out his secret mission to Castro "as a news- 
man." 168 

As Kennedy knew, the greatest risk of the politically explosive meeting 
lay not with the press but with the CIA. However, the CIA already knew 
and was letting others know. As Cuban government intelligence would learn, 
the CIA had not only closely monitored Kennedy's secret turn toward Castro 
from the beginning, as could have been expected. The Agency had also 
divulged the Kennedy-Castro connection to its Cuban exile network in 
Miami, thereby inflaming the exiles' anti-Kennedy sentiment that went back 
to the Bay of Pigs. 169 From the CIA's command center in Langley to its largest 
hub of activity in Miami, President Kennedy in his developing detente with 
Fidel Castro was now regarded as a total traitor to the anti-communist cause. 

aving taken the momentous step of approving the secret talks with 
Castro, during the final week of his life President Kennedy sent a hope- 
ful message to the Cuban premier. It came in his November 1 8 address in 
Miami to the Inter-American Press Association. William Attwood said he 

was told by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who co-authored Kennedy's speech, that 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

"it was intended to help me by signaling to Castro that normalization was 
possible if Cuba simply stopped doing the Kremlin's work in Latin America 
(such as trying to sabotage — vainly as it turned out — the upcoming Venezue- 
lan elections)." 170 

In his November 18 speech, the president first emphasized that the 
Alliance for Progress did "not dictate to any nation how to organize its eco- 
nomic life. Every nation is free to shape its own economic institutions in 
accordance with its own national needs and will." 171 

Kennedy then issued a challenge and a promise to Castro. He said that "a 
small band of conspirators" had made "Cuba a victim of foreign imperial- 
ism, an instrument of the policy of others, a weapon in an effort dictated by 
external powers to subvert the other American Republics. This, and this 
alone, divides us. As long as this is true, nothing is possible. Without it, every- 
thing is possible. Once this barrier is removed, we will be ready and anxious 
to work with the Cuban people in pursuit of those progressive goals which 
a few short years ago stirred their hopes and the sympathy of many people 
throughout the hemisphere." 172 

Kennedy's final message to Castro was a promise that if he stopped what 
Kennedy regarded as Cuba's covert action in support of Soviet policies in 
Latin America, then "everything was possible" between the United States 
and Cuba. On the same day he made this pledge, November 18, his repre- 
sentative Attwood took a further step toward detente by agreeing with 
Vallejo by phone (with Castro listening in) to set an agenda for a Kennedy- 
Castro dialogue. 173 Attwood said that when he reported on the call to the 
White House the next day, he was told by Bundy that "once an agenda had 
been agreed upon, the president would want to see me and decide what to 
say to Castro. [Bundy] said the president would be making a brief trip to 
Dallas but otherwise planned to be in Washington." 174 Kennedy was ready 
to work out the specific elements of his dialogue with Castro as soon as he 
returned from Dallas. 

However, the CIA was just as dedicated to undermining the words John 
Kennedy had already spoken as it was to making sure he would never speak 
again. The Agency immediately began propagating its own version of the 
November 1 8 speech, in combination with its efforts to kill both Kennedy 
and Castro. 

n early September, the CIA set in motion yet another assassination plot 
against Castro, this one meant to serve ultimately as a way to blame Robert 
Kennedy for the killing of his own brother. The CIA's Castro/RFK scheme uti- 
lized its key undercover agent in Cuba, Rolando Cubela, who was known by 
the code-name AM/LASH. Rolando Cubela was no ordinary agent but a 
Cuban political figure whom Fidel Castro trusted. Cubela had fought beside 
Castro in the Cuban Revolution. He then held various posts in the revolu- 

Washington and Dallas 


tionary government but became disillusioned by Castro's alliance with the 
Soviet Union. In 1961 he was recruited by the CIA, which nurtured care- 
fully its secret relationship with a Castro associate who also had experience 
as an assassin. In 1959 Cubela had shot to death Batista's head of military 
intelligence. 175 Thus, the CIA's Cubela plot was, as Castro assessed it years 
later, "one that had many possibilities of success because that individual had 
access to us." 176 

On October 29, 1963, Rolando Cubela met at a CIA safe house in Paris 
with Desmond Fitzgerald, chief of the CIA's Special Affairs staff. In one of 
the CIA's most blatant attempts to destroy both Kennedy brothers, Fitzger- 
ald, using a false name, posed as a U.S. senator representing Attorney Gen- 
eral Robert Kennedy. 177 The Church Committee, following the CIA's 
top-secret Inspector General's Report, discovered that the Deputy Director 
of Plans, Richard Helms, had "agreed that Fitzgerald should hold himself 
out as a personal representative of Attorney General Robert Kennedy." 178 
As the CIA's own internal report admitted blandly, Helms had also decided 
"it was not necessary to seek approval from Robert Kennedy for Fitzgerald 
to speak in his name." 179 The CIA's impersonation worked, convincing 

Cubela that he had been authorized by the Attorney General's representative 
to assassinate Castro. Fitzgerald then put in a special order for Cubela of a 
poison pen device from the CIA's Operations Division of the Office of Med- 
ical Services: "a ball-point rigged with a hypodermic needle . . . designed to 
be so fine that the victim would not notice its insertion." 180 

On November 22, according to the Inspector General's Report, "it is 

likely that at the very moment President Kennedy was shot, a CIA officer 
was meeting with a Cuban agent in Paris and giving him an assassination 

device for use against Castro" 181 — acting falsely once again in the name of 
Attorney General Robert Kennedy. As the Church Committee discovered, 
Cubela's CIA handler told him that Desmond Fitzgerald, whom Cubela knew 
as "Robert Kennedy's representative," had helped write the president's 
speech that was delivered in Miami on November 18. Cubela was informed 
"that the passage about the 'small band of conspirators' was meant as a 
green light for an anti-Castro coup." 182 

The CIA, by reversing the meaning of Kennedy's speech to motivate its 
own hired assassin, created a dogma of disinformation that it would dis- 
seminate for decades — that the Miami speech meant an encouragement to 
murder, not dialogue. The CIA's further device of hiring Cubela in the name 
of Robert Kennedy to assassinate Castro laid the foundation for the repeated 
claim that Castro, to preempt the threat on his own life, ordered JFK's mur- 
der — and that RFK had therefore triggered his own brother's assassination. 

When Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., learned years later of the murderous twist 
the CIA had put on the speech he helped write, he commented: "On its face 
the passage was obviously directed against Castro's extracontinental ties and 
signaled that, if these were ended, normalization was possible; it was meant 

JFK and the Unspeakable 

in short as assistance to Attwood [for a dialogue with Castro], not to Fitzger- 
ald [for assassinating him]. This was the signal that Richard Goodwin, the 
chief author of the speech, intended to convey." 183 

President Kennedy stated the purpose of his Miami speech when he first 
spoke to his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, about it. The speech's audi- 
ence would be the Inter- American Press Association, which Sorensen knew 
was "a very tough anti-Castro group." 184 Yet Kennedy told Sorensen he had 
another audience in mind: Fidel Castro. Sorensen said later that the president 
specifically wanted "a speech that would open a door to the Cuban 
leader." 185 

That is precisely the way in which Fidel Castro understood Kennedy's 
words — as an open door. 

In a speech in Cuba on November 23, 1963, Premier Castro reflected on 
President Kennedy's death the day before. He took a special interest in JFK's 
November 1 8 Miami speech, recognizing that it signaled an opening to him- 
self and thus posed a threat to those opposed to rapprochement. Citing wire 
service reports, he noted the exile community's hostile reaction to the speech: 

"And so, a series of cables. Here 'Miami, Florida — The Cuban exiles 
waited tonight in vain for a firm promise from President Kennedy to take 
energetic measures against the communist regime of Fidel Castro.' 

"It says: 'They waited tonight in vain for a firm promise' . . . Many met 
in the offices of the revolutionary organizations and in their homes, to listen 
to President Kennedy over the radio . . . They listened when the President 
said: 'We in this hemisphere must also use every resource at our command 
to prevent the establishment of another Cuba in this hemisphere.' 186 That is, 
they did not accept the fact he said 'to prevent the establishment of another 
Cuba in this hemisphere,' because they thought that it carried with it the 
idea of accepting one Cuba. Many exiles had hopes of more vigorous state- 
ments to liberate Cuba from communism . . . " 187 

Like the exiles, Castro understood at once the nuance of the carefully writ- 
ten phrase, "to prevent the establishment of another Cuba in this hemi- 
sphere" (emphasis added). What was cause for bitterness in the exiles was 
cause for hope in Castro, the hope of dialogue with the enemy, and peace. 
He continued his commentary on the press reports of the president's speech: 

"'Miami Beach: Latin American newspaper publishers and editors in 
response to the speech delivered by President Kennedy tonight . . . said that 
he had not taken a strong enough position against the communist regime of 
Fidel Castro.' 

"[Another newspaper says:] 'Kennedy now refuses to allow Cuban exiles 
to launch attacks against Cuba from U.S. territory, and in fact uses U.S. air 
and naval power to maintain Castro in power.' . . . That is to say, they accuse 
Kennedy of using naval and air power to maintain Castro in power. 

"... The UPI overflowed with information as it had never done before, 
picking up all the criticisms of Kennedy because of his Cuban policy . . . 

"How strange it is really that the assassination of President Kennedy 

Washington and Dallas 

should take place at a time when there was unanimous agreement of opin- 
ion against certain aspects of his policy. How strange all this is." 188 

Castro also commented on the strangeness of the wire service reports the 
day before that had instantly identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin. 
On November 23, 1963, he asked brilliantly obvious questions about 
Oswald that have been suppressed in the U.S. media from then until now. 

"Can anyone who has said that he will disclose military secrets [as Oswald 
said to the Soviet Union] return to the United States without being sent to 
jail? . . . 

"How strange that this former marine should go to the Soviet Union and 
try to become a Soviet citizen, and that the Soviets should not accept him, 
that he should say at the American Embassy that he intended to disclose to 
the Soviet Union the secrets of everything he learned while he was in the U.S. 
service and that in spite of this statement, his passage is paid by the U.S. 
Government . . . He goes back to Texas and finds a job. This is all so 
strange!" 189 

Fidel Castro recognized "CIA" written all over Lee Harvey Oswald and 
the disinformation on him that was being sent around the world soon after 
the assassination. The Dallas setup was obvious to someone as familiar with 
CIA plots as Fidel Castro was. On the night before Oswald was killed and 
silenced forever, Castro's questions pointed beyond Oswald to an unspeak- 
able source of the crime: 

"Who could be the only ones interested in this murder? Could it be a real 
leftist, a leftist fanatic, at a moment when tensions had lessened, at a moment 
when McCarthyism was being left behind, or was at least more moderate, at 
a moment when a nuclear test ban treaty is signed, at a moment when [pres- 
idential] speeches [that] are described as weak with respect to Cuba were 
being made?" 190 

In the years to come, Fidel Castro would conclude that Nikita Khrushchev 
and John Kennedy had negotiated a correct way out of the missile crisis, in 
spite of his own opposition. He would then admit honestly that he had been 
too blind to see a liberating way out at the time. In a 1975 interview, he 
acknowledged that he had been "enormously irritated" by the way in which 
the crisis was resolved, with no guarantee of Cuba's security against a U.S. 
invasion. "But if we are realistic," he added, "and we go back in history, we 
realize that ours was not the correct posture." 191 Upon further reflection he 
had come to feel "history has proven that the Soviet position [of withdraw- 
ing its missiles in return for a no-invasion pledge] was the correct one" and 
that Kennedy's "promise not to invade Cuba [turned out to be] a real prom- 
ise and everyone knows that. That is the truth." 192 JFK's successors in the 
White House adhered to that promise, even though they failed to follow up 
on his beginning negotiations with Castro. 

Castro had seen Kennedy change as president: "I have an impression of 
Kennedy and of Kennedy's character, but I formed it over the years that he 
was President from different gestures, different attitudes. We mustn't forget 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the speech he made at American University several months prior to his death, 
in which he admitted certain truths and spoke in favor of peace and relax- 
ation of tensions. It was a very courageous speech and it took note of a series 
of international realities . . . This was Kennedy after two years in the presi- 
dency, who felt sure of his reelection, a Kennedy who dared make decisions 
daring decisions . . . 

"One of the characteristics of Kennedy was courage. He was a courageous 
man. A man capable of taking a decision one way or another, a man capa- 
ble of revising a policy, because he had the courage to do so." 193 

Speaking to members of Congress who visited Cuba in 1978, Castro said 
of his former enemy, "I can tell you that in the period in which Kennedy's 
assassination took place Kennedy was changing his policy toward Cuba . . . 
To a certain extent we were honored in having such a rival . . . He was an 
outstanding man." 194 

ulia Ann Mercer, a twenty-three-year-old employee of Automat Distribu- 
tors in Dallas, drove into Dealey Plaza at about 11:00 A.M. on Friday, 
November 22, 1963. It was an hour and a half before the president's motor- 
cade would pass through. While Mercer's car was stalled by heavy traffic in 
what would soon become a killing zone, her attention was drawn to a green 

pickup truck parked up on the curb to her right. 

As Mercer watched, a man walked around to the back of the pickup. He 
reached in and pulled out a rifle case wrapped in paper. The man carried 
what was apparently a rifle up a slope that would soon become known as the 
grassy knoll. 195 

Mercer looked up at the bridge that formed an arch over the street ahead 
of her. Three police officers were standing talking beside a motorcycle. She 
wondered why they took no interest in the man carrying the rifle up the hill. 

Mercer eased her car forward, until she was parallel to the man driving 
the pickup. The driver turned his head, looking straight into the eyes of Julia 
Ann Mercer. The man had a round face. He turned away, then looked back 
at her. Their eyes locked again. Two days later, while watching television, 
Mercer would recognize the driver of the truck, Jack Ruby, in the act of 
shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. 196 

After Mercer drove away from Dealey Plaza, she stopped to eat at a 
favorite restaurant. She told friends there about the man she'd seen carrying 
the rifle up the hill. She guessed he had to be a member of the Secret Service. 
"The Secret Service is not very secret," she said. 197 

When she continued her drive to work, a police car pulled her over. Two 
officers who had overheard her in the restaurant said she was needed for 
questioning in Dallas. President Kennedy had been shot in Dealey Plaza, 
where she had seen the man with the rifle. 198 

For several hours that afternoon and the next morning, Julia Ann Mercer 

Washington and Dallas 

was questioned by the Dallas police and the FBI. Four years later, she saw the 
statements they attributed to her. She was unable to recognize them as her 

It was in January 1968, during Jim Garrison's investigation of the 
Kennedy assassination, that Julia Ann Mercer's husband phoned Garrison. 
He said he and his wife were in New Orleans and wanted to talk with Gar- 
rison. When Garrison met them in their hotel suite, he was confronted, as he 
would write, by "a most impressive couple. A middle-aged man of obvious 
substance, he had been a Republican member of Congress from Illinois. 
Equally impressive, she was intelligent and well-dressed, the kind of witness 
any lawyer would love to have testifying on his side in front of a jury." 199 

Garrison showed Mercer her statements as printed in the Warren Com- 
mission Exhibits. Reading them carefully, she shook her head. 

"These have all been altered," she said. "They have me saying just the 
opposite of what I really told them." 200 

She said that on Saturday, November 23, the day after the president's 
assassination, FBI agents showed her an assortment of pictures. She selected 
four of the pictures as looking like the driver of the green pickup truck. When 
they turned one over, she read the name "Jack Ruby" on the back. 201 

She told Garrison, "I had no doubts about what the driver's face looked 
like. I do not know whether the other three pictures shown me were other 
men who looked like Ruby or whether they were three other pictures of Jack 
Ruby. But they definitely showed me Jack Ruby, and I definitely picked him 
out as looking like the driver." 202 

Her identification of Jack Ruby as the driver had occurred on the day 
before Ruby shot Oswald. If her testimony on Ruby delivering a man with 
a gun case to the grassy knoll had become public, it would have created a 
major problem for the government's argument that there was no conspiracy. 
Perhaps not surprisingly, the FBI version of her statement claimed "Mercer 
could not identify any of the photographs" with the driver. 203 

Julia Ann Mercer wrote down, on Garrison's copy of the FBI report, a 
description of her identification of Ruby's picture. She added: "I again rec- 
ognized Jack Ruby when I saw him shoot Oswald and I said to my family, 
who were watching TV with me, 'That was the man I saw in the truck.'" 204 

After seeing Ruby's murder of Oswald, Mercer notified the FBI that she 
had again recognized Ruby as the driver of the truck. 205 That is not in the FBI 
report. According to it, she never identified Ruby at all, much less a second 
time. The FBI report acknowledges only that she had been shown a picture 
of Ruby (without disclosing that this happened on the day before Ruby shot 
Oswald). The FBI again claims "she could not identify him as the person 
[driving the truck]." 206 

Pointing this out to Garrison, she laughed and said, "He was only a few 
feet away from me [in Dealey Plaza]. How could I not recognize Jack Ruby 
when I saw him shoot Oswald on television?" 207 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

The FBI and Dallas Sheriff's Department versions of Mercer's statement 
not only denied her identification of Ruby as the driver. They also claimed 
she said the truck had a sign on its side in black, oval letters that read "Air 
Conditioning." 208 Mercer told Garrison she said the opposite: "Every time I 
was questioned — which included at least two times by the FBI — I clearly 
stated that there was no printing on the truck." 209 

The FBI's and Sheriff's Department's false description of the truck as hav- 
ing an "Air Conditioning" sign on its side resulted in a charade. FBI agents 
then conducted a thorough but irrelevant search throughout Dallas for the 
driver of such a truck. 210 

The government's documents on Julia Ann Mercer are, on close exami- 
nation, not only deceptive. They are also fraudulent. 

The Sheriff Department's statement was signed by "Julia Ann Mercer" 
and notarized. However, in Garrison's presence, Mercer signed her name 
below the written corrections she had just made to the statement. She showed 
him the difference between her signature and the forgery someone had done 
in her name on the original document. 211 

She stated: "Neither of the signatures on the two pages of this affidavit is 
mine although they are fairly close imitations (except for the way the capi- 
tal A is written in my second name, Ann. I have always used a pointed cap- 
ital A and whoever signed my name on these two pages used a round capital 
A each time). 

"Also I note that a woman has signed her name as a Notary Public and 
has indicated that this alleged statement was 'sworn to and subscribed' before 
her. This also is untrue." Mercer said she was the only woman present dur- 
ing any of her questioning. 212 

Julia Ann Mercer has been a key witness in the assassination of John F. 
Kennedy from the beginning. The government knows that. So does she. For 
that reason, she has been almost impossible to locate for decades. 

Jim Garrison, "conscious of the sudden deaths of some witnesses who 
appeared to have seen too much for their own survival," 213 thought she 
should continue to use her maiden name on her New Orleans statements, 
just as she had in Dallas. She followed his suggestion, and thereby became 
inaccessible. Nevertheless, because of the critically important nature of her 
testimony, in the late 1970s Garrison offered to locate her for the House 
Select Committee on Assassinations, "if they intended to call her as a witness 
and would assure me that there would be a serious effort to protect her." 214 
He never heard from them. He later read in the HSCA's published report 
that he had sent them statements on the "allegation" made by Julia Ann 
Mercer, but that the "committee has been unable to locate Ms. Mercer." 215 

From reading her own definitive statements, countering the government's 
claims of what she said, I have sometimes felt like I knew her. Of course, I 
don't. However, I once talked to someone who did — her stepdaughter. She 
described her in the same way anybody might who has read Julia Ann Mer- 
cer's own words, as opposed to their government revision. She said her step- 

Washington and Dallas 

mother was "very dynamic, very straightforward, and very determined." 216 
She also made it clear that her stepmother knew the meaning of witness 
intimidation and had chosen to disappear from public view. Since 1983 when 
Mercer granted an interview to author Henry Hurt, 217 she has remained hid- 
den and anonymous. 

From the moment on November 22, 1963, when Julia Ann Mercer was 
caught in traffic beside the grassy knoll, she has been very dynamic, very 
straightforward, and very determined to see and tell the truth. For some, 
that has made her a very dangerous person. It has also placed her in danger. 
However, she has never repudiated or compromised her testimony. 

Julia Ann Mercer summarized her response to the repeated government 
claims that she could not identify the driver of the pickup truck from which 
the rifle had been taken up the grassy knoll: "That is not true. I saw the 
driver very clearly. I looked right in his face and he looked at me twice. It was 
Jack Ruby." 218 

t a White House meeting the evening of Wednesday, November 19, JFK's 
second-to-last night in Washington, the president said he was willing to 
visit the developing nation of Indonesia the following spring. 219 Kennedy was 
thereby endorsing a long-standing invitation from President Sukarno, the 
fiery Indonesian leader. Sukarno was notorious in Washington for his anti- 
American rhetoric and militant third world nationalism. Although Sukarno 
said he was a neutralist in terms of the Cold War, U.S. analysts saw him 
favoring Soviet policies, as shown by his acceptance of Soviet military aid to 

Yet Kennedy, who had been an outspoken senator in support of newly lib- 
erated third world nations, welcomed Sukarno to the White House in 1961. 
Sukarno had in turn hoped to host Kennedy in Indonesia. When the Indone- 
sian leader repeated his invitation in November 1963, he said he would give 
the U.S. President "the grandest reception anyone ever received here." 220 

Kennedy's openness to Sukarno and the nonaligned movement he repre- 
sented once again placed the president in direct conflict with the Central 
Intelligence Agency. The CIA's Deputy Director for Plans, Richard Bissell, 
wrote to Kennedy's National Security Adviser, McGeorge Bundy, in March 

"Indonesia's growing vulnerability to communism stems from the dis- 
tinctive bias of Sukarno's global orientation, as well as from his domestic 
policies . . . That his dictatorship may possibly endure as long as he lives 
strikes us as the crux of the Indonesian problem." 221 

The CIA wanted Sukarno dead, and what the Agency saw as his pro- 
communist "global orientation" obliterated. Still justifying the CIA's assas- 
sination efforts in an interview long after his retirement, Richard Bissell put 
Congo leader Patrice Lumumba and Sukarno in the same disposable cate- 
gory: "Lumumba and Sukarno were two of the worst people in public life 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

I've ever heard of. They were mad dogs ... I believed they were dangerous 
to the United States." 222 

Assassination plots against such men, Bissell conceded, may at times have 
shown "bad judgment," but only when they were unsuccessful. He insisted 
that plotting to kill such "mad dogs" was "not bad morality." He regretted 
only that certain CIA assassination plots had failed and become public. 223 

The CIA's coup plotting against Sukarno became public during the Eisen- 
hower administration. In the fall of 1956, the CIA's then-Deputy Director 
for Plans, Frank Wisner, said to his Far East division chief, "I think it's time 
we held Sukarno's feet to the fire." 224 The Agency then fomented a 1957-58 
army rebellion in Indonesia, supplied arms shipments to the rebels, and even 
used a fleet of camouflaged CIA planes to bomb Sukarno's government 
troops. 225 The CIA's covert role was exposed after one of its hired pilots, 
Allen Pope, bombed a church and a central market, killing many civilians. 
Pope was shot down and identified as a CIA employee. 226 Sukarno freed Pope 
from a death sentence four years later in response to a personal appeal by 
Robert Kennedy, when the Attorney General visited Indonesia on behalf of 
the president, thereby strengthening the bonds Sukarno felt with both 

Unlike the CIA, President Kennedy wanted to work with Sukarno, not 
kill or overthrow him. In 1961-62, the president brokered an agreement 

between Indonesia and its former colonial master, the Netherlands, on the eve 
of war between them. JFK's peaceful resolution of the Indonesian-Dutch cri- 
sis through the United Nations ceded the contested area of West Irian (West 
New Guinea) from the Netherlands to Indonesia, giving the people of West 
Irian the option by 1969 of leaving Indonesia. The CIA felt Kennedy was 
thereby aiding and abetting the enemy. As Bissell put it, "by backing Indone- 
sia's claim to sovereignty over West Irian, we may inadvertently help to con- 
solidate a regime which is innately antagonistic toward the United States." 227 

Kennedy looked at the situation instead through Sukarno's eyes. He said, 
"When you consider things like CIA's support to the 1958 rebellion [against 
his government], Sukarno's frequently anti-American attitude is under- 
standable." 228 

Citing this statement, an adviser to the president noted: "This remark 
seems somehow to have worked its way back to Sukarno, who found the 
generosity and understanding that prompted it confirmed when he met the 
President himself." 229 Through his empathy with an apparent ideological 
opponent, Kennedy was able to acknowledge the truth behind Sukarno's 
words, establish a mutual respect with him, and prevent Indonesia and the 
Netherlands from going to war. 

At the same time that Kennedy diplomatically resolved the Indonesian- 
Netherlands conflict, the president countered the CIA's plots against Sukarno 
by issuing his National Security Action Memorandum 179 on August 16, 
1962. Addressing NSAM 179 to the heads of the State Department, Defense 

Washington and Dallas 


Department, CIA, AID, and the U.S. Information Agency, JFK ordered them 
to take a positive approach to Indonesia: 

"With a peaceful settlement of the West Irian dispute now in prospect, I 
would like to see us capitalize on the US role in promoting this settlement to 
move toward a new and better relationship with Indonesia. I gather that with 
this issue resolved the Indonesians too would like to move in this direction, 
and will be presenting us with numerous requests. 

"To seize this opportunity, will all agencies concerned please review their 
programs for Indonesia and assess what further measures might be useful. I 
have in mind the possibility of expanded civic action, military aid, and eco- 
nomic stabilization and development programs, as well as diplomatic initia- 
tives. The Department of State is requested to pull together all relevant 
agency proposals in a plan of action and submit it to me no later than Sep- 
tember 15 th . 

John F. Kennedy" 230 

As in the case of newly independent African nations, the CIA's deep-seated 
opposition to Kennedy's openness to Sukarno arose from something more 
basic than Cold War ideology. As in the Congo, Indonesia was rich in natu- 
ral resources. If its natural resources were developed, Indonesia would 
become the third or fourth richest nation in the world. 231 U.S. corporations 
were determined to exploit Indonesia for their own profits, whereas Sukarno 
was busy protecting the wealth of his country for the people by expropriat- 
ing all foreign holdings. With the corporation-friendly Dutch out of the pic- 
ture thanks to Kennedy's diplomacy, Sukarno could now block foreign 
control of West Irian resources as well. 232 

From the ruling standpoint of corporate profits and Cold War ideology, 
it was clear Sukarno had to go. The CIA was committed to achieving that 
goal, as Sukarno was well aware. On November 4, 1963, he told U.S. ambas- 
sador Howard Jones "he had been given evidence of a CIA plan to topple 
him and his government." 233 Jones reported to the State Department: 
"Sukarno acknowledged he was convinced that President Kennedy and the 
U.S. Ambassador were not working against him. However, he was aware 
from the past that CIA often participated in activities of which the Ambas- 
sador was not aware and which even perhaps the White House was not 
aware." 234 

On the evening of November 19, 1963, when JFK said he was willing to 
accept Sukarno's invitation to visit Indonesia the following spring, he was set- 
ting in motion a radically transforming process that could dramatize in a 
very visible way Kennedy's support of third world nationalism. That sea 
change in U.S. government policy would be terminated three days later. The 
fate of Sukarno himself would be decided, in effect, in Dallas. As would be 
revealed by post-Dallas events, the primary factor that had kept Sukarno's 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

independent government alive amid the hostile forces trying to undermine it 
was the personal support of President John F. Kennedy. 

he assassins of the president controlled the crime scene, Dealey Plaza, 

from the beginning. When witnesses instinctively stormed the grassy knoll 
to chase a shooter who was apparently behind the fence at the top, they 
immediately encountered plainclothesmen identifying themselves as Secret 
Service agents. These men facilitated and covered up the escape of the trig- 
germen, if they were not themselves the triggermen shielded by Secret Serv- 
ice credentials. 

The Warren Commission acknowledges in effect that the men behind the 
fence on the grassy knoll could not have been genuine Secret Service agents. 
The Warren Report states that the Secret Service agents "assigned to the 
motorcade remained at their posts during the race to the hospital. None 
stayed at the scene of the shooting, and none entered the Texas School Book 
Depository Building at or immediately after the shooting . . . Forrest V. Sor- 
rels, special agent in charge of the Dallas office, was the first Secret Service 
agent to return to the scene of the assassination, approximately 20 or 25 
minutes after the shots were fired." 235 

The men in Dealey Plaza who said they were Secret Service agents played 
an important role in the assassination. However, in so doing, they themselves 

became part of the evidence. This was thanks to the testimony of the wit- 
nesses whom they were trying to control. 

fter President Kennedy was shot when his limousine passed through 
Dealey Plaza, Dallas Police Officer Joe Marshall Smith was one of the 
first people to rush up the grassy knoll and behind its stockade fence. As he 
reported to his superiors, he smelled gunpowder right away. 236 He told the 
Warren Commission that when he encountered a man in the parking lot 
behind the fence, "I pulled my pistol from my holster, and I thought, this is 
silly, I don't know who I am looking for, and I put it back. Just as I did, he 
showed me that he was a Secret Service agent." 237 

The "Secret Service agent" was well prepared to discourage anyone like 
Officer Smith who might challenge his being behind the fence where some- 
one had just shot at the president. "He saw me coming with my pistol," 
Smith said, "and right away he showed me who he was." 238 

"The man, this character," Smith said in an interview, "produces creden- 
tials from his hip pocket which showed him to be Secret Service. I have seen 
those credentials before, and they satisfied me and the deputy sheriff." 239 

However, especially when Officer Smith learned later that there were no 
real Secret Service agents there, he realized that the man he had confronted, 
with the smell of gunpowder in the air, didn't look the part of a Secret Serv- 
ice agent. 

Washington and Dallas 


"He looked like an auto mechanic." Smith said. "He had on a sports shirt 
and sports pants. But he had dirty fingernails, it looked like, and hands that 
looked like an auto mechanic's hands. And afterwards it didn't ring true for 
the Secret Service." 240 

Another witness who met a man behind the fence with Secret Service iden- 
tification was Gordon L. Arnold, a twenty-two-year-old soldier in uniform. 
Arnold confronted a "Secret Service agent" at about the same place as Offi- 
cer Smith did. In Arnold's case, the encounter happened shortly before the 

Infantryman Gordon Arnold was on leave in Dallas after having com- 
pleted his basic training. He had brought a movie camera to Dealey Plaza to 
film the presidential motorcade. He thought the railroad bridge over the 
triple underpass would give him the best vantage point. To get there, Arnold 
started walking behind the fence on top of the grassy knoll. 241 

He found his way blocked quickly by a man in a civilian suit wearing a 
sidearm. 242 The man in the suit told the young soldier he shouldn't be there. 
When Arnold challenged the man's authority, the man pulled out a large 
identification badge 243 and held it toward Arnold. He said, "I'm with the 
Secret Service. I don't want anybody up here." 244 

Arnold said all right and began walking back along the fence. He could 
feel the man following him. Arnold stopped halfway down the fence. He 
looked over it with his camera. It was an ideal place to shoot his film. 

The man in the suit came up again. 

"I told you," he said, "to get out of this area." 

Arnold said okay. He walked the complete length of the fence and went 
around to the top of the grassy knoll. A few minutes later, when the presi- 
dential limousine approached, Arnold began filming the president. As he 
stood with his back to the fence that was three feet behind him, he found 
himself in the line of fire. 

"Just after the car turned onto Elm and started toward me," he recalled, 
"a shot went off from over my left shoulder. I felt the bullet, rather than 
heard it, and it went right past my left ear . . . You don't really hear the whiz 
of a bullet; you feel it. You feel something go by, and then you hear a report 
just behind it ... It was like a crack, just like I was standing there under the 
muzzle." 245 

Arnold hit the dirt. He felt a second shot pass over his head and heard its 
crack. He knew the feeling. During basic training, he had crawled under live 

machine gun fire. 

When the shooting stopped, while Arnold was still lying on the ground, 
he felt a sharp kick. 

"Get up," said a policeman standing over him. 

A second policeman appeared. He was crying and shaking. In his hands 
was a long gun that he was waving nervously at Arnold. The two men 
demanded Arnold's film. 

When Gordon Arnold described his experience years later, he said, "I 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

thought [the man with the gun] was a police officer, because he had the uni- 
form of a police officer. He didn't wear a hat, and he had dirty hands. But it 
didn't really matter much at that time [whether he was a police officer or 
not]. With him crying like he was, and with him shaking, and with the 
weapon in his hand, I think I'd have given him almost anything . . ." 246 

Arnold tossed the movie camera to the first "police officer." The man 
opened it, pulled out the film, and threw the camera back to Arnold. The two 

men in police uniforms left quickly with his film. Arnold would never see or 
hear of his film again. He ran to his car. Two days later, he was on a plane 
reporting for duty at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Terrified by his experience on 
the grassy knoll, he did not report it to authorities. 

The deep fear Gordon Arnold felt from the "Secret Service agent," the 
two "police officers," and the bullets that were fired by an assassin a few 
feet behind him, silenced him for years. He heard about the mysterious 
deaths of witnesses to the assassination. He had been one of the closest wit- 
nesses. He did not want to become one of the dead ones. 247 

Arnold shared his experience on the grassy knoll with very few people. His 
story finally became public in 1978 when a Dallas reporter heard about it, 
and persuaded Arnold to be interviewed. 248 

According to the testimony of other witnesses, men claiming to be Secret 
Service agents were collecting critically important evidence immediately after 
the president was shot. Witness Jean Hill said that when she ran behind the 
fence of the grassy knoll, men who identified themselves as Secret Service 
agents held her while they took from her coat pocket all the motorcade pic- 
tures she had just put there from her friend Mary Moorman's Polaroid 
camera. 249 Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman, who told the Warren Com- 
mission he met up with Secret Service agents behind the wall that adjoined 
the stockade fence, said he turned over "to one of the Secret Service men" 
what he believed was a portion of the president's skull that he had found on 
Elm Street. 250 The counterfeit Secret Service agents who took vital evidence 
from Hill and Weitzman, like the equally questionable men in police uni- 
forms who took Gordon Arnold's movie film, were cleaning up the crime 
scene only seconds after the president was murdered. It was a pattern that 
would be followed with other critical evidence for the rest of the day. 

No one had a more revealing view than did witness Ed Hoffman of what 
the phony Secret Service agents were facilitating and covering up. Ed Hoff- 
man was uniquely qualified to serve as an eyewitness. He had trained him- 
self to see more sharply than most people because he lacked one sense they 
had — hearing. Ed Hoffman was a deaf-mute. His keen eyewitness testimony 
has given us eyes to see behind the fence. 

On the morning of November 22, Ed Hoffman, twenty-seven years old, 
was excused from his job in a machine shop at Texas Instruments in North 
Dallas because he had broken a tooth. While he was driving to the dentist, 
he was reminded by seeing the crowds of people along the street that Presi- 
dent Kennedy was visiting Dallas that day. Hoffman momentarily forgot 

Washington and Dallas 


about his tooth and decided to stop and see the president, who was expected 
in a little less than an hour. He parked his car on the broad shoulder of Stem- 
mons Freeway just west of Dealey Plaza, and walked to a point where he 
would be able to look down from the freeway into the president's car when 
it passed below him. He found he also had a panoramic view of the railroad 
bridge at Dealey Plaza and the area adjoining it behind the wooden fence at 
the top of the grassy knoll. 251 

Although he was standing beside a freeway roaring with traffic, he heard 
none of it. He explained later his attention to what he was seeing: "I think 
my vision is much sharper than a hearing person's, because I concentrate 
totally on what I'm seeing and there are no sounds to distract me. I was really 
enjoying the view." 252 

In the forty-five minutes before the presidential motorcade arrived, Ed 
Hoffman became completely absorbed in watching the activities of two men 
behind the stockade fence at the top of the grassy knoll. He saw a stocky 
man in a dark blue business suit and black hat standing near the fence. In Ed 
Hoffman's mind, this was the "suit man." The second man Hoffman 
observed was tall, thin, and dressed like a railroad worker. The "railroad 
man" stood waiting by the switch box at the railroad tracks, where the 
tracks, after passing across the bridge, ran perpendicular to the fence. Hoff- 
man was puzzled by the fact that the two men, although dressed quite dif- 
ferently, seemed to be working together. The "suit man" kept walking back 
and forth between the fence and the switch box, where he would confer with 
the "railroad man." 253 

When Hoffman sensed that the presidential limousine (which he could 
not see) was approaching, he saw the "suit man" walk over to the "railroad 
man" a final time, speak briefly, and return to the fence. The "suit man" 
crouched down and stood up, apparently picking something up. He looked 
over the fence. In the silent drama Ed Hoffman was watching, he then saw 
a puff of smoke by the "suit man." He assumed it was from a cigarette. 254 
He soon realized the smoke had come from the firing of a rifle he was unable 
to hear. 

Hoffman saw the "suit man" turn suddenly with a rifle in his hands. He 

ran to the "railroad man," tossing the rifle to him over a thin, horizontal 
pipe about four feet off the ground. The "railroad man" caught the rifle, 
breaking it down with a twist. He thrust it in a railroad worker's soft brown 
tool bag and ran north along the tracks. The "suit man" turned back, 
assumed a casual pose, and began strolling alongside the fence. 255 

A police officer came quickly around the fence and confronted the "suit 
man" with a revolver. The "suit man" held out his empty hands. He then 
took what was apparently identification out of his coat pocket and showed 
it to the police officer. The officer put his gun away. The "suit man" mingled 
with the crowd of people that was coming around the fence. 256 

Ed Hoffman's attention switched to the presidential limousine, as it was 
then being driven below him onto Stemmons Freeway. He looked down on 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

President Kennedy's body sprawled across the back seat, with a gaping 
wound in his right rear skull. It looked like bloody Jello. 257 

Hoffman was unable to see anything more behind the fence. A slowly 
moving freight train had crossed the railroad bridge and was blocking his 
view. Realizing he had witnessed the assassination of the president, he 
became overwhelmed by the need to let people know that he had seen the 
man with the rifle. He ran to his car. He made visits to Dallas Police Head- 
quarters and the FBI office that proved futile. In the wake of the assassina- 
tion, no one was patient enough to understand a seemingly obsessed man 
who was unable to speak. 

Hoffman's biggest hope was to communicate what he had seen to his 
father. Frederick Hoffman, a florist, was his son's best friend and a hearing 
person who knew sign language. Ed hoped his father would help him tell his 
story to the authorities. However, when Ed finished telling Frederick excit- 
edly in sign how he had seen the man who killed the president, his father 
was strangely resistant to the idea of phoning the police. (Ed would realize 
later that his father recognized Ed was in a dangerous position and was try- 
ing to protect him.) After Oswald was arrested and shown on television, Ed 
insisted the police had the wrong man from the wrong place, the Texas 
School Book Depository, not the man with the rifle he had seen behind the 
fence. Yet his father continued to put him off. He finally agreed to help Ed 
tell his story to his Uncle Bob — Lieutenant Robert Hoffman, a Dallas Police 
detective — during the Hoffman family's Thanksgiving gathering, six days 
after the assassination. 258 

After Frederick Hoffman had interpreted Ed's story in detail on Thanks- 
giving Day, detective Robert Hoffman stood up for emphasis and spoke seri- 
ously to his nephew. What Ed saw from his father's translation was: 

"Your father is right. You should keep quiet about this. You might be in 

Ed argued against his uncle and father. He signed in protest to them: "The 
real killers got away! The authorities don't know about the shot from behind 
the fence. They have to be notified!" 

The Dallas Police lieutenant's response, through the signing of Ed's father, 
was even more emphatic: "You stay-down. Hush! You talk, you get-shot!" 159 

For three and a half years, Ed Hoffman followed his father's and his 
uncle's counsel that he keep quiet about the assassination. Then, compelled 
by his conscience and without his father's knowledge, Hoffman made an 
appointment with the Dallas FBI office for June 28, 1967. With no sign lan- 
guage interpreter present, he tried to give his testimony on what he had seen 
behind the fence to Special Agent Will Hayden Griffin by means of gestures, 
sketches, and notes made up of sentence fragments. Griffin's subsequent 
report was so filled with transcription errors, if not deliberate misrepresen- 
tations, that it ultimately had Hoffman saying he "could not have seen the 
[two] men running because of a fence west of the Texas School Book Depos- 
itory building." 260 

Washington and Dallas 


Nevertheless, Griffin did understand Hoffman well enough to think it 
advisable to offer him a bribe to remain silent about what he knew. 

After Hoffman had used every means at his command to communicate 
his knowledge of the assassination, Agent Griffin smiled at him. He pointed 
his index finger at Hoffman, for the word, "you." Griffin put his finger to his 
mouth, meaning "hush." He mimed taking his wallet from his hip pocket and 

giving Hoffman something from it. To indicate what that would be, he held 
out his hand with his fingers extended — for the number 5 — then closed his 
hand twice into a fist, for "00." 

Hoffman was shocked. He immediately gestured to Griffin his refusal of 
the bribe. 

Griffin's smile passed into a stern, almost angry expression. He gestured 
more earnestly to Hoffman, "You hush!" 261 

After Ed Hoffman left, agent Griffin phoned Frederick Hoffman about 
his son's visit to the FBI office. Frederick was appalled at what Ed had done. 
When Ed stopped by his father's flower shop, Frederick told him in despair, 

"I can't do anything about it if they shoot you, too!" 262 

A week later, the FBI interviewed Frederick Hoffman, asking him to assess 
his son's testimony. Hoffman continued to fear that Ed would be killed if he 
were identified as an assassination witness. He was therefore not about to 
confirm the likely truth of Ed's story. Yet he could not deny his son's integrity. 
Ed's brother, Fred, who was present at their father's FBI interview, claimed 
that Frederick ended up making a confusing, agnostic statement to the FBI: 
"I don't know if Ed saw what he saw." 263 

Frederick Hoffman may have realized the FBI would give his words a neg- 
ative twist in their report, as they did: "The father of Virgil [Edward] Hoff- 
man stated that he did not believe that his son had seen anything of 
value . . ." 264 

After his father's death in 1976, Ed Hoffman made a final attempt on 
March 25, 1977, with the partial help of interpreters, to communicate his 
knowledge to the FBI. The FBI's report was again so full of errors that it 
bore little resemblance to Hoffman's testimony. 265 It was only in 1989 with 
the publication of Jim Marrs's book Crossfire, containing Hoffman's story as 
given through an interpreter, that Ed Hoffman was finally able to tell an 
attentive audience what he had seen behind the fence of the grassy knoll. 266 

Ed Hoffman had witnessed a critically important scene in the assassina- 
tion scenario. The "suit man," who tossed the rifle to the "railroad man" for 
rapid disposal, had been equipped beforehand with a powerful means of 
identification. His just showing it at the murder scene, with the smell of gun- 
powder still in the air, had so reassured a suspicious police officer, Joe Mar- 
shall Smith, that he immediately put his gun away and let the suspect go 
without detaining or questioning him. The man, whose credentials passed 
him off as a Secret Service agent, was in fact a methodical assassin in an 
orchestrated killing of the president. Moments before, as Hoffman had seen, 
the documented "Secret Service agent" had fired his rifle at President 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Kennedy before tossing it to an assistant. Thus, the assassins were not only 
well prepared to identify themselves as government agents. They also seemed 
confident that they would not be exposed from their bold use of Secret Serv- 
ice credentials to assure their escape. They were right. The Warren Com- 
mission went out of its way to ignore the obvious evidence of Secret Service 
imposters at a source of the shots. 

As we learned from Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden, the Secret Serv- 
ice took the extraordinary step of withdrawing and replacing all of its agents' 
commission books a month and a half following the assassination, moving 
Bolden to suspect that Secret Service identification had been used as a cover 
by the assassins of President Kennedy. Officer Joe Marshall Smith, who was 
familiar with Secret Service credentials, said he had confronted a man behind 
the fence at the top of the grassy knoll who showed him such credentials. 
That raises the question: What was the source of the Secret Service identifi- 
cation displayed by JFK's assassins? 

In June 2007, in response to a fifteen-year-old Freedom of Information Act 
request, the CIA finally declassified its "Family Jewels" report. Buried in the 
702-page collection of documents was a memorandum written by Sidney 
Gottlieb, chief of the CIA's Technical Services Division (TSD). Gottlieb was the 
notorious designer of the CIA's contaminated skin diving suit intended in the 
spring of 1963 for the assassination of Castro, the scapegoating of Kennedy, 
and the destruction of an incipient Cuban- American rapprochement. 

In his secret May 8, 1973, CIA memorandum, Sidney Gottlieb stated that 
"over the years" his Technical Services Division "furnished this [Secret] Serv- 
ice" with "gate passes, security passes, passes for presidential campaign, 
emblems for presidential vehicles; a secure ID photo system." 267 The Secret 
Service supposedly received its identifying documents from the Bureau of 
Engraving and Printing, as Abraham Bolden said it did in the replacement of 
its agents' commission books in January 1964. 268 Since the Bureau of Engrav- 
ing and Printing is, like the Secret Service, a part of the Treasury Depart- 
ment, it is reasonable in terms of in-house security and accessibility that 
it — and especially not the CIA — would provide the Secret Service commission 
books. Yet here is the CIA's Sidney Gottlieb acknowledging that "over the 
years" his Technical Services Division "furnished" such identification to the 
Secret Service — identification that could just as easily have been given at any 
time, as might prove useful, to CIA operatives using a Secret Service cover. 
The source was the same. 

There is a certain criminal consistency between Gottlieb's having prepared 
a poisoned diving suit meant for Castro's murder and his perhaps having 
furnished as well the Secret Service credentials used by the assassins on the 
grassy knoll. However, Gottlieb was only a CIA functionary who carried out 
higher orders. The more responsible assassins were above him. 

What does the phenomenon of a sniper team supplied with official gov- 
ernment credentials for an immediate cover-up tell us about the forces behind 
the crime? 

Washington and Dallas 


Would an innocent government, in its investigation of the murder of its 
president, ignore such evidence of treachery within its own ranks? 269 

key to John Kennedy's presidency, and to its end in Dallas, was his 
extraordinary, ongoing communication with his Communist adversary, 
Nikita Khrushchev. 

According to the official State Department record, Kennedy-Khrushchev 
Exchanges, the last such exchange between Chairman Khrushchev and Pres- 
ident Kennedy happened on October 10, 1963. 270 On that day in Moscow, 
after a ceremony in which Khrushchev proudly signed the historic Limited 
Test Ban Treaty, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Valerian Zorin handed U.S. 
ambassador Foy Kohler a letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy. 

Foy Kohler was not an ambassador on the same wave length as his pres- 
ident. JFK had appointed Fohler, a rigid Cold Warrior recommended by the 
Foreign Service, 271 only when Robert Kennedy, who strongly opposed him, 
was unable to come up with an alternative. 272 When Kohler wired to the 
State Department what would turn out to be the final Khrushchev-Kennedy 
letter, he characteristically dismissed its significance in a way that Kennedy 
would not have. Kohler's telegram stated that the Khrushchev letter con- 
tained "nothing new of substance." 273 While that may have been technically 
true, Khrushchev considered his letter to Kennedy, issued on the occasion of 
their greatest mutual achievement, at least important enough for the Soviet 
leader to have it broadcast over Moscow Radio that same evening. Kennedy 
would have thought it important enough, at the very least, for Khrushchev 
to receive a reply from him. That was not to happen. 

In Khrushchev's letter to the president, the Soviet chairman followed 
Kennedy's lead in his UN address by proposing in turn that they together 
use the test ban treaty, that "has injected a fresh spirit into the international 
atmosphere," as their opening "to seek solutions of other ripe international 
questions." He then singled out projects that the two of them could work on: 
"conclusion of a non-aggression pact between countries of NATO and mem- 
ber states of the Warsaw Pact, creation of nuclear free zones in various 
regions of the world, barring the further spread of the nuclear weapon, ban- 
ning of launching into orbit objects bearing nuclear weapons, measures for 
the prevention of surprise attack, and a series of other steps." 274 

"Their implementation," Khrushchev wrote, "would clear the road to 

general and complete disarmament, and, consequently, to the delivering of 
peoples from the threat of war." 275 

Khrushchev's vision, as inspired by the test ban treaty, corresponded in a 
deeply hopeful way to Kennedy's American University address. In his letter, 
Khrushchev was signaling his readiness to work with Kennedy on a host of 
projects. If the two leaders should succeed as they had on the test ban treaty, 
in only a few of Khrushchev's suggested projects, they would end the Cold 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

However, following Ambassador Kohler's negative comment, the State 
Department doubted if Khrushchev's letter even deserved a response from 
the president. A State Department memorandum sent from "Mr. Klein" to 
National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy again dismissed the Khrushchev 
letter: "With reference to the message from Khrushchev on the signing of 
the test ban treaty, the Department generally is reluctant to make a substan- 
tive reply. Should there be a polite response?" 276 

Someone, presumably McGeorge Bundy, wrote "Yes" under the typed 

The State Department then prepared a "polite," two-paragraph "Sug- 
gested Reply from the President to Khrushchev," and sent it back on Octo- 
ber 20 to McGeorge Bundy. He scribbled, "Approved, let's get it out" on 
the cover memorandum. But, unlike other documents seen and approved by 
the president himself, there is no indication on this one that it was seen by 
anyone except National Security Adviser Bundy. 

It is at this point that the final Khrushchev-to-Kennedy letter, and the pres- 
ident's minimal response approved by McGeorge Bundy, were filed into 
limbo by the State Department. For the month remaining until Kennedy's 
death, nothing at all was sent to Khrushchev. His hopeful, open-ended letter 
to Kennedy on their next possible steps together was simply left hanging. 

Two and one-half weeks after Kennedy's assassination, a terse, official 
explanation was put on record for this abrupt ending of a correspondence 
that, if allowed to continue, could have ended the Cold War. A White House 
"Memo for Record" was typed up on December 9, 1963. It stated that the 
draft reply approved by Bundy was never sent to Khrushchev "due to cleri- 
cal misunderstanding in the State Department." 277 

The unsigned memorandum then observed: "When it was learned on 
December 4, 1963 that a reply had not gone forward, the State Department 
recommended, and Mr. McGeorge Bundy concurred, that no reply need be 
made at this time." 278 

Since John Kennedy was dead, it would have been difficult for the State 
Department and Bundy to send Khrushchev an apology in Kennedy's name 
(or anyone else's), attempting to explain the "clerical misunderstanding" that 

had ended their correspondence. Moreover, had Khrushchev learned of this 
"clerical misunderstanding," he would have had further reason to question 
just what kind of support the president was getting from his own government 
in the month before his assassination. 

After following the baffling trail of this aborted end to the Kennedy- 
Khrushchev correspondence, historian Michael Beschloss commented: "Wait- 
ing in Moscow for Kennedy's reply, Khrushchev might have wondered why 
Kennedy had not responded to his cordial letter about new opportunities for 
peace. As the weeks passed in silence, his dark imagination may have begun 
to take over: was the president about to turn his back on the emerging 
detente?" 279 

Washington and Dallas 


Fortunately, however, Khrushchev knew better than that, because 
Kennedy had used a surreptitious means to reassure him. The Soviet chair- 
man knew through a back-channel message from Kennedy that the presi- 
dent had not given up at all on their mutual hopes for peace. Kennedy let 

Khrushchev know at the end of September that he did indeed want to move 
forward with the Soviets on disarmament talks, but that he had to do so 

Thanks to the opening of Moscow archives following the fall of the Soviet 
Union, we can now begin to see the Soviet side of this subterranean tale of 
Cold War leaders in communication. Drawing on previously top-secret Soviet 
documents, authors Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali discovered 
that "on September 30, 1963, John Kennedy through his press secretary, 

Pierre Salinger, had attempted to reestablish a confidential channel to the 
Soviet leadership." 280 

As we recall, it was Pierre Salinger who in the fall of 1961 received for 
Kennedy the first secret letter from Khrushchev, rolled up in a newspaper by 
a Soviet "magazine editor" who was in reality a member of the KGB, the 
Soviet secret police. Now Kennedy, through Salinger, was reversing the 

Vladimir Semichastny, the Moscow head of the KGB, reported to Nikita 
Khrushchev on October 2, 1963, that Kennedy wanted to reopen the secret 
channel between them, using Salinger and a Washington-based KGB agent 
as the conduit. Kennedy's people had recommended Colonel G. V. Kar- 
povich, a known KGB officer in the U.S.S.R.'s Washington Embassy, as an 
undercover messenger between JFK and Khrushchev. 281 As Fursenko and 

Naftali confirmed from the Soviet documents, Khrushchev then "approved 
the use of the KGB as an intermediary to exchange proposals [with Kennedy] 
that could not go through regular diplomatic channels." 282 

Kennedy's secret September 30 initiative to Khrushchev preempted in a 
shrewd way the State Department's (deliberate or inadvertent) termination 
of his formal correspondence with the Soviet leader. The president was well 
aware of how few people in his administration he could trust with his peace- 
making messages to their Communist enemies. As he was forced to do repeat- 
edly with his Cold War bureaucracy, he simply bypassed the State 
Department's resistance to his dialogue with Khrushchev in the fall of 1963 
by creating an alternative means of communication. 283 

Nevertheless, although the tactic was a familiar one for Kennedy, the 
means he sought out for his final effort to explore peace with Khrushchev is 
startling. For JFK to have to rely in the end not on his own State Department 
but on the Soviet secret police to convey secure messages of peace between 
himself and Khrushchev speaks volumes. Because of his turn toward peace, 
the president had become almost totally isolated in his own government 
before he made his trip to Dallas. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

t 10:30 A.M. on November 22, 1963, Sheriff Bill Decker held a meeting 
in preparation for the President's visit to Dallas that day. Decker had 
called together all his available deputies, about one hundred men. 284 They 
included the plainclothes men and detectives who were especially important 
to the president's safety as he passed through the streets of Dallas. Decker 
gave his assembled officers an unusual order. 

The Sheriff said they "were to take no part whatsoever in the security of 
that [presidential] motorcade." The Sheriff told his officers they were simply 
"to stand out in front of the building, 505 Main Street, and represent the 
Sheriff's Office." 285 

Sheriff Decker gave the order of noninvolvement to his security teams just 
two hours before the president's assassination in Dealey Plaza, which was just 
outside the window of the sheriff's office. 286 As Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig 
later reflected back on the sheriff's words, he realized that Decker had with- 
drawn the Dallas County component of President Kennedy's security at the 
motorcade's most vulnerable location only a few feet away. 287 

Dealey Plaza was characterized by tall buildings, fences, and sewer open- 
ings. Sniper teams could take their pick. The hairpin turn from Houston to 

Elm Street would slow the limousine to a crawl, making the president an 
almost stationary target for crossfire from many possible angles. What was 
in effect a sniper's gallery represented a tremendous challenge for security 
police. The withdrawal of JFK's security made Dealey Plaza the ideal ambush 
site, set up with the help of those responsible for the president's protection. 

Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, like Sheriff Bill Decker, gave a critical 
order that would also keep his officers away from Dealey Plaza during the 
president's perilous passage through it. William Manchester, in his book The 
Death of a President , noted that Curry told his officers "to end supervision 
of Friday's crowd at Houston and Main, a block short of the ambush, on the 
ground that traffic would begin to thin out there." 288 

The truth lay deeper. Chief Curry, in his book JFK Assassination File, gave 
a more authoritative reason than the anticipation of light traffic for his cut- 
ting short the president's security one block too soon. He said he was sim- 
ply following the orders of the Secret Service: "The Dallas Police Department 
carefully carried out the security plans which were laid out by Mr. Lawson, 
the Secret Service representative from Washington, D.C." 289 

Chief Curry and Sheriff Decker gave their orders withdrawing security 
from the president in obedience to orders they had themselves received from 
the Secret Service. Curry and Decker in Dallas were carrying out orders from 
Washington. As the House Select Committee on Assassinations put it, it was 
the Secret Service that "defined and supervised the functions of the police 
during Kennedy's visit [to Dallas]." 290 

The Secret Service also made a critical change in the protection the pres- 
ident would normally receive from his motorcycle escorts. Following past 
precedents, the Dallas Police had made plans at a preliminary meeting (not 
attended by the Secret Service) to assign motorcycle escorts "alongside the 

Washington and Dallas 


President's car," 291 thereby partially screening the president from any gunfire. 
However, at a Dallas Police Department/Secret Service coordinating meet- 
ing held on November 21, the Secret Service changed the plan. The motor- 
cycle escorts were pulled back from their positions alongside the limousine 
(where they shielded the president) to positions in the rear (where they were 
not a hindrance to snipers). 292 

The reason given for this stripping of security from the president was that 
he didn't want his motorcycle security. Police Captain Perdue W. Lawrence, 
the Dallas officer for escort security, testified to the Warren Commission on 
the Secret Service rationale for the change made at the November 21 meet- 
ing: "I heard one of the Secret Service men say that President Kennedy did 
not desire any motorcycle officer directly on each side of him, between him 
and the crowd, but he would want the officers to the rear." 293 

The Secret Service advance man from Washington, Winston G. Lawson, 
who attended the November 21 meeting, explained to the Warren Commis- 
sion: "It was my understanding that [the president] did not like a lot of 
motorcycles surrounding the car ... if there are a lot of motorcycles around 
the President's car, I know for a fact that he can't hear the people that are 
with him in the car talking back and forth, and there were other considera- 
tions I believe why he did not want them completely surrounding his car." 294 

It is puzzling, however, why JFK had the "desire," explained by the Secret 
Service after his death, to withdraw his motorcycle security only in Dallas. 
The day before in Houston, he apparently had no such desire, since the Secret 
Service (according to its own report on the Houston presidential visit) 
deployed motorcycles there in its normal way alongside the presidential lim- 
ousine. 295 The House Select Committee on Assassinations drew the reluctant 

"Surprisingly, the security measure used in the prior motorcades during 
the same Texas visit show that the deployment of motorcycles in Dallas by 
the Secret Service may have been uniquely insecure ... it may well be that 
by altering Dallas Police Department Captain Lawrence's original motorcy- 
cle plan, the Secret Service deprived Kennedy of security in Dallas that it had 
provided a mere day before in Houston." 296 

Even more critically, the Secret Service withdrew the protection of its 
agents normally stationed on the back of the presidential limousine. If the 
agents had been at their usual posts on the limousine, holding the hand rails 
on the car, they could have obstructed gunfire or thrown themselves on the 
president when the shooting began. But they, too, had been withdrawn in 
Dallas. They were reassigned to the car following the limousine, where they 
were useless in preventing the assassination. During the shooting of the pres- 
ident, the Special Agent in Charge of the follow-up car, Emory Roberts, actu- 
ally ordered his agents "not to move even after recognizing the first shot as 
a shot." 297 To his credit, Agent Clint Hill disobeyed Roberts's order by 
instead running after the limousine and climbing on it, but too late to help 
the president. 298 

JFK and the Unspeakable 

The reason given for the further stripping of agents from the limousine 
was that the president also didn't want his limousine security. According to 
Secret Service documents submitted to the Warren Commission, the president 
had said "he did not want agents riding on the back of his car." 299 

To investigate this claim, researcher Vincent Palamara interviewed a series 
of former Secret Service agents and White House aides to Kennedy. They all 
agreed that, on the contrary, "Kennedy did not restrict agents from riding on 
the rear of the limousine." 300 

Agent Gerald A. Behn, the initially cited source of the official Secret Serv- 
ice/Warren Commission claim that JFK stripped away his limousine security, 
told Palamara the exact opposite: "I don't remember Kennedy ever saying 
that he didn't want anybody on the back of the car." 301 

Contrary to the Secret Service claim that it had to deal with a difficult 
president who opposed having agents on his limousine, former agent Robert 
Lilly said, "Oh, I'm sure he didn't. He was very cooperative with us once he 
became President. He was extremely cooperative. Basically, 'whatever you 
guys want is the way it will be.'" 302 

Even agent Floyd Boring, the most frequently used source for the Warren 
Commission claim, said instead of the president: "He didn't tell them any- 
thing . . . JFK was a very easy-going guy ... he didn't interfere with our 
actions at all." 303 

From Palamara's interviews, it soon became obvious that the withdrawal 

of agents from the presidential limousine in Dallas "was a Secret Service deci- 
sion, not a JFK desire as 'official' history (Warren Commission/[Jim] Bishop/ 

[William] Manchester/ Secret Service) has told us all. The Secret Service lied, 

using JFK as a scapegoat." 304 

Besides withdrawing security from Dealey Plaza and the presidential lim- 
ousine, the Secret Service also planned the turn that slowed Kennedy's lim- 
ousine to a crawl. That forced slowdown completed the setup for the snipers 
in waiting. The Secret Service advance man, Winston G. Lawson, approved 
the fatal dogleg turn in Dealey Plaza when he and the Dallas Special Agent 
in Charge, Forrest V. Sorrels, did their dry run over the motorcade route on 
November 18. 305 

Thus, not only did the Secret Service plan and coordinate a turn that fla- 
grantly violated its own security rule of a f orty-four-mile-an-hour minimum 
speed for the presidential limousine. 306 Through orders from Washington, 

the agency responsible for the president's security created a vacuum of secu- 
rity — in Dealey Plaza, all around the presidential limousine, and on the sur- 
rounding buildings as well. 

Air Force Colonel Fletcher Prouty, who helped supervise security for Pres- 
ident Eisenhower's visit to Mexico City, said it was a Secret Service rule for 
an obviously dangerous site like Dealey Plaza "to order all the windows to 
be closed and sealed. Put a seal on it that says to anyone working in the 
building: 'Do NOT open this window.' Then you say, yes, but how are you 
going to control maybe hundreds of people? It's not hard. You put a man 

Washington and Dallas 

on the roof with a radio. You put others in strategic positions with snipers' 
rifles. You put another man down in the middle of the plaza on the grass, 
looking up, and he's got a radio. If he sees a window open, he broadcasts 
immediately: 'third floor, fourth window over.' The snipers cover the win- 
dow and one of the team on the roof runs down there, sees why the win- 
dow's up — some secretary opened the window to see the President go 
by — and he says: 'Close that window!' And it's closed. You have radios. It 
can be done." 307 

Yet, as we have seen, the only "Secret Service Agents" in Dealey Plaza 
when the shots were fired were imposters and killers, bearing false creden- 
tials to facilitate their escape and coerce witnesses into handing over vital 
evidence that would vanish. The vacuum created by orders from Washing- 
ton was immediately filled. When the president's security was systematically 
withdrawn from Dealey Plaza, his assassins moved swiftly into place. 

Unaware of Washington's plans for Dealey Plaza, Deputy Sheriff Roger 
Craig, on hearing the first shot, also moved swiftly. Craig had been follow- 
ing Sheriff Decker's orders, standing passively with the other deputy sheriffs 
in front of the courthouse at 505 Main Street. At 12:30 P.M., President 
Kennedy was driven in his limousine past the courthouse and four feet away 
from Roger Craig. The limousine turned from Main onto Houston. It finally 
made the agonizingly slow turn from Houston onto Elm. Then Craig heard 
a rifle shot. He instinctively broke ranks and began running into Dealey 
Plaza. Before he could reach the corner, he heard two more shots. 308 

John Kennedy was already gone, but Roger Craig's work on his behalf 
had just begun. 

For the next ten minutes, Craig questioned witnesses and looked for bul- 
let marks along the street. While scanning the south curb of Elm Street at 
12:40 P.M., he heard a shrill whistle from the opposite side of the street. In 
an unpublished memoir, When They Kill a President, Roger Craig described 
what he saw when alerted by the whistle: 

"I turned and saw a white male in his twenties [whom Craig would later 
identify, to the dismay of the Warren Commission, as Lee Harvey Oswald] 
running down the grassy knoll from the direction of the Texas School Book 
Depository Building. A light green Rambler station wagon was coming 
slowly west on Elm Street. The driver of the station wagon was a husky look- 
ing Latin, with dark wavy hair, wearing a tan wind breaker type jacket. He 
was looking up at the man running toward him. He pulled over to the north 
curb and picked up the man coming down the hill. I tried to cross Elm Street 
to stop them and find out who they were. The traffic was too heavy and I was 
unable to reach them. They drove away going west on Elm Street." 309 

Craig was struck by the two men's rush to leave the scene of the assassi- 
nation. Everyone else around him was rushing to the scene to see what they 
could. Craig thought the incident suspicious enough to report to authorities 
at the police command post. He ran to the front of the Texas School Book 
Depository and asked for anyone involved in the investigation. A man on 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

the steps dressed in a gray business suit turned to Craig. He said, "I'm with 
the Secret Service." 310 

Roger Craig gave his information to the man in the suit, naively believing, 
as he said later, that everyone at the command post was an actual officer. 
"The Secret Service Agent" seemed strangely uninterested in what Craig had 
to say about the two departing men. Then his interest suddenly picked up. 
He began taking notes on his little pad while Craig told him about the sta- 
tion wagon, an automobile whose description Craig would soon learn 
seemed to correspond to a station wagon then owned by Marina Oswald's 
hostess, Ruth Paine. 311 

Later in the afternoon, Roger Craig learned the Dallas Police were hold- 
ing a man suspected of involvement in the president's murder. Craig thought 
immediately of the man running down the grassy knoll. He phoned the homi- 
cide chief, Captain Will Fritz, who asked him to come look at the suspect. 

Shortly after 4:30 P.M., Craig looked into Captain Fritz's office and iden- 
tified the man being held there as the same man he had seen running down 
the grassy knoll to the station wagon — Lee Harvey Oswald. 312 

As Fritz and Craig entered the office together, Fritz said to Oswald, "This 
man saw you leave." 

Oswald became a little excited. He said, "I told you people I did." 

Fritz said in a soothing tone of voice, "Take it easy, son. We're just trying 
to find out what happened." 

Then Fritz asked Oswald, "What about the car}" 

Oswald leaned forward and put both hands on Fritz's desk. He said, 
"That station wagon belongs to Mrs. Paine. Don't try to drag her into this." 

Then he leaned back in his chair. He said in a low voice, "Everybody will 
know who I am now. " 

Craig has emphasized that Oswald made this statement in a dejected tone 
of voice. He said, "Everybody will know who I am now," as if his cover had 
just been blown. 313 

At this point Fritz ushered Craig from the office. It was too late — for both 
the government and Roger Craig. Deputy Sheriff Craig had seen and heard 
too much. 

It was also at this time that Captain Fritz received an urgent phone request 
from Sheriff Decker to come see him immediately. Decker's need to talk with 
Fritz in person, not by phone, was so great that the homicide chief suspended 
his questioning of Oswald so as to travel the fifteen blocks to the sheriff's 
office and meet with him privately. 314 

Why did Decker cause such a strange break at an early, critical stage of 
Fritz's questioning of Oswald? In the rush of all the commotion and chaos, 
when evidence of the assassination had to be gathered quickly, why did Sher- 
iff Decker not just talk on the phone with Captain Fritz instead of having 
Fritz traipse halfway across town to confer with him in person? 315 Apparently 

the sheriff needed to talk in absolute secrecy with the homicide chief, with- 
out any risk of their conversation being overheard on the phone. 

Washington and Dallas 

Although we do not know what Decker said to Fritz behind closed doors, 
Penn Jones, Jr., the courageous local journalist who explored Dallas's dark- 
est alleys, made the observation "that knowledge of the assassination was on 
a 'need to know' basis. When Oswald was not killed in the Texas Theater, 
and was now in the hands of Captain Will Fritz, did Fritz move into the cir- 
cle of those who 'needed to know'?" 316 

What Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig would testify to in the years ahead, as 
his piece of the truth of Dallas, was corroborated by a parade of other wit- 
nesses. They, too, saw either the Nash Rambler or someone suspicious who 
would be picked up by the station wagon. Together with Craig's testimony, 
these witnesses' stories have given us a picture of the Rambler's function as 
an escape vehicle — which leads in turn to an insight into the enigma of Lee 

Harvey Oswald. 

Carolyn Walther, a worker in a dress factory, stood on Houston Street at 

the edge of Dealey Plaza a few minutes before the president's arrival. As she 
waited for the motorcade, Walther looked up at the Texas School Book 
Depository. On one of its upper floors, 317 she saw a man in a white shirt lean- 
ing out the southeast corner window with a rifle in his hands pointed down, 
as if for all the world to see. The man, who had blonde or light-brown hair, 
was looking down the street where the motorcade was about to come around 
the corner — a posed, public portrait of the assassin waiting for his target to 
come into view. 318 

However, Carolyn Walther also spied a second, more mysterious man, 
standing by the man with the rifle. The second man's head was blocked from 
view by the dirty glass in the upper half of the window. She could see his 
body from his waist to his shoulders. Her clothing worker's eye took note of 
the headless man's apparel. Before she turned her eyes to the approaching 
motorcade, she had seen that the second man in the window was wearing a 
brown suit coat. 319 

Up the street from Carolyn Walther was another witness about to see a 
man in such a coat. Standing four feet from the Texas School Book Deposi- 
tory was James Richard Worrell, Jr., a twenty-year-old high school dropout. 
After the president was driven past him, Worrell heard a shot. He looked 
straight up at the building over him. He saw the barrel of a rifle sticking out 
a window in the fifth or sixth floor, pointing in the direction of the limousine. 
It seemed to be firing — an assassin's weapon in public view. Worrell looked 
ahead. He saw the president slumping down in his seat. 320 

Terrified, Worrell pivoted and ran up the street as he heard a gun fire two 
more times. After he heard a fourth shot (thereby contradicting what would 
be the government's three-shot case against Oswald) and continued running, 
Worrell paused a block away to catch his breath. He looked back. 321 He saw 
a man in a sport coat running out the back of the Texas School Book Depos- 
itory. As the man ran, Worrell could see his coat open and flapping in the 
breeze. James Worrell turned. Like the man in the sport coat, he fled the 
scene. 322 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

A third witness connected the man in the coat with a Rambler station 
wagon. High above Carolyn Walther, James Worrell, and the president in 
his limousine was Richard Randolph Carr, an unemployed steelworker who 
was ascending the stairway of the partially constructed new courthouse 
building. He was looking for the foreman on the ninth floor to inquire about 
work. When he reached the sixth floor, Richard Carr stopped for a rest. He 
gazed across at the Texas School Book Depository. He saw a man looking out 
the second window from the southeast corner of the top floor. Carr later 
described the man as "a heavy set individual, who was wearing a hat, a tan 
sport coat and horn-rimmed glasses." 323 

About a minute later, Carr heard what he thought was a car's backfire or 
a firecracker. Then he heard two more such reports in quick succession. From 
his perch above Dealey Plaza, he looked toward the triple underpass where he 
thought the noises were coming from and saw people falling to the ground. 324 

Carr descended the stairway to see what had happened. On Houston 
Street, he was surprised to see the same man in the sport coat who had been 
at the Depository window. The man was walking quickly toward Carr, look- 
ing back over his shoulder. 325 Carr watched him turn and walk a block east 
very fast. Then the man in the sport coat got into a 1961 or 1962 Rambler 
station wagon, parked on Record Street. The driver was "a young negro 
man." 326 The Rambler drove off to the north. 

The station wagon then apparently headed two blocks north, made a left 
turn onto Elm Street, and continued a block and a half down Elm. It was 
soon spotted there, by Roger Craig and four other witnesses, as it stopped 
abruptly in front of the Texas School Book Depository. 

Helen Forrest witnessed the same scene Roger Craig did but from the 
opposite side of the street- Forrest told historian Michael Kurtz she was on 
the incline by the grassy knoll, when she "saw a man suddenly run from the 
rear of the Depository building, down the incline, and then enter a Rambler 
station wagon." 327 Like Roger Craig, Helen Forrest was clear in identifying 
the running man. "If it wasn't Oswald," she said, "it was his identical 
twin." 328 Forrest's account was corroborated by another eyewitness, James 
Pennington. 329 

Craig's, Forrest's, and Pennington's stories of the Rambler's grassy knoll 
pick-up were supported by the testimony of two passing drivers, Marvin C. 
Robinson and Roy Cooper. 

Shortly after the assassination, Marvin Robinson had to jam on his Cadil- 
lac's brakes in front of the Texas School Book Depository. The light-colored 
Rambler just ahead of him had pulled over suddenly beside the curb. It was 
about to pick up a man coming down the grass from the Depository. 330 
Robinson's employee, Roy Cooper, driving just behind him, told the FBI he 
saw the near-accident. Cooper said the man coming down the incline waved 

at the Rambler, then jumped into it. The Rambler sped off ahead of Cooper 
and Robinson in the direction of the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, 331 where 

Washington and Dallas 


Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit would soon be killed, and where Lee Har- 
vey Oswald would then be arrested in the Texas Theater. 

The Warren Commission rejected Roger Craig's testimony on Oswald and 
the getaway Rambler, supported by a chorus of eyewitnesses, since the Com- 
mission decided by that time that Oswald must have escaped from the scene 
on a city bus. 332 The Warren Report also rejected Craig's account of the dia- 
logue with Oswald in Fritz's office, because Fritz denied Craig was even 
there. 333 As we have seen, the same Captain Will Fritz, perhaps after moving 

into the circle of those who "needed to know," told the Louisiana State Police 
he had no interest in questioning Rose Cheramie as a witness, excluding her 
testimony just as effectively as he discredited Craig's. Deputy Sheriff Craig 
would also be attacked on the basis of an FBI report that seemed to show 
Ruth Paine did not own a Nash Rambler but rather a 1955 Chevrolet sta- 
tion wagon. 334 Judged in terms of its source, the report proved nothing. The 
FBI agent who wrote it would later confess to a Congressional committee, 
as we shall see, that he was guilty of deliberately destroying key assassina- 
tion evidence in obedience to his FBI superior's orders. 335 

By rejecting Roger Craig's testimony, the Warren Commission could 
ignore the significance of Oswald's words to his interrogator, Captain Fritz. 
According to Roger Craig, it was Oswald who said the car that picked him 
up was a station wagon, and who identified the owner of the station wagon 
as Mrs. Paine, whom Oswald then defended. Moreover, as a result of the 
incident and his own comments on it, he acted as if he had just blown his 
cover. Thus he said bleakly, "Everybody will know who I am now," imply- 
ing his involvement as an undercover intelligence agent. 

He was, of course, wrong in thinking now everybody would know who 
he was. Two days after his remark, Oswald would be dead. And no one 
beyond a secret circle would know the details about just who he had been. 
The mouth that was beginning to blurt out the truth of his undercover life 
would be quickly sealed. 

he person nearest to President Kennedy when he was shot to death was 
his wife, Jacqueline. Her presence in Dallas beside her husband was a sign 
of the couple's deepening support for each other since the death in August 
1963 of their infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, which had devastated 
both of them. In his response to the death of their son, we can discern a hid- 
den truth in the life of John Kennedy. 

Although Kennedy was a Cold Warrior who had taken the world to the 
very brink of nuclear war, there was a more peaceful element in his charac- 
ter from which God could create something new. What was the seed of his 
transformation? As an author trying to understand his turnaround with 
Nikita Khrushchev from the depths of the Missile Crisis, I have puzzled over 
what it was in Kennedy's character that made possible his turn toward peace. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

What was the seed of his change from the president of a national security 
state into a leader with a more universal humanity, which, as Thomas Mer- 
ton foresaw, would then mark him out for assassination? 

At least one natural component of that seed for change was, I believe, his 
love for his children, and his ultimately transcending ability to see in them 
everyone's children. In reading his story, one is struck by the depth of love 
he had for Caroline and John, the global lessons he repeatedly drew from his 
feeling for their lives and the lives of all children, and the deep pain he and 
Jacqueline experienced at the death of Patrick. 

On August 7, 1963, in the same morning Jacqueline Kennedy began to 
have premature birth pains, John Kennedy was in a meeting with Norman 
Cousins and a group of organizers to mobilize the public to urge Senate rat- 
ification of the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty. 336 As we have seen, Kennedy 
understood the test ban treaty as an absolutely crucial issue for his presi- 
dency, yet one whose success he remained pessimistic about, even after his 
negotiation of the treaty with Khrushchev. Its biggest obstacle, Kennedy 
knew, lay not in Moscow but in Washington. Now that he and Khrushchev 
had come to terms on the treaty, how was he to get the Senate to approve it? 

Given the Cold War's continuing hold on the United States and Congress 
in particular, the president thought getting the Senate's necessary two-thirds 
approval of the treaty would be "almost in the nature of a miracle." 337 Nev- 
ertheless, he told his advisers, he was committed to waging an all-out cam- 
paign to win the Senate's approval of the treaty, even if it cost him the 1964 
election. 338 

The reason for his total commitment to the test ban treaty, a critical first 
step toward peace, was apparent in what Kennedy repeated to friends about 
his dread of nuclear war: "I keep thinking of the children, not my kids or 
yours, but the children all over the world." 339 

Robert Kennedy, who knew his brother's deepest concerns better than 
anyone else on earth did, said that in the Cuban Missile Crisis "the thought 
that disturbed him the most, and that made the prospect of war much more 
fearful than it would otherwise have been, was the specter of the death of the 
children of this country and all the world — the young people who had no 
role, who had no say, who knew nothing even of the confrontation, but 
whose lives would be snuffed out like everyone else's. They would never have 
a chance to make a decision, to vote in an election, to run for office, to lead 
a revolution, to determine their own destinies." 340 

President Kennedy was also becoming more deeply conscious that chil- 
dren all over the world were already innocent victims of the radioactive fall- 
out from his and other governments' testing of nuclear weapons. 

As we have seen, Kennedy was a keen listener. Sometimes a single sen- 
tence with a momentous truth was all he needed to hear. 

One afternoon in his office, he was talking with his science adviser, Jerome 
Wiesner, about the contamination from the U.S. and Soviet nuclear testing. 

Washington and Dallas 


While rain fell outside the White House windows, Kennedy asked Wiesner 
how nuclear fallout returned to the earth from the atmosphere. 
"It comes down in rain," Wiesner said. 

The president turned around. He looked out the windows at the rain 
falling in the White House's Rose Garden. 

"You mean there might be radioactive contamination in that rain out there 
right now?" he said. 

"Possibly," Wiesner said. 

Wiesner left the office. Kennedy sat in silence for several minutes, looking 
at the rain falling in the garden. His appointments secretary Kenny O'Don- 

nell came and went quietly. O'Donnell had never seen Kennedy so 
depressed. 341 

Nor later, in August 1963, had his advisers ever seen Kennedy so deter- 
mined as he was to win Senate confirmation of the test ban treaty. He gave 
the reason for his determination in his televised appeal for the treaty on July 
26, 1963: 

"This treaty is for all of us. It is particularly for our children and our 
grandchildren, and they have no lobby here in Washington." 

He emphasized what was especially at stake: "children and grandchildren 
with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in 

their lungs." 

In retrospect, one of his most memorable statements was: "The malfor- 
mation of even one baby — who may be born long after we are gone — should 
be of concern to us all. " 342 He said these words two weeks before his own 
newborn baby would die. 

On the morning of August 7, at the same time as Kennedy was meeting 
at the White House with Norman Cousins and the Citizens Committee for 
a Nuclear Test Ban, Kenny O'Donnell "received word from Hyannis Port 
that Jackie was undergoing emergency surgery at the Otis Air Base hospital 
for a delivery, five weeks premature of a baby boy." 343 

A minute later, Evelyn Lincoln, the president's secretary, came into the 
test ban meeting and handed Kennedy a note. Norman Cousins watched 
JFK's face become clouded as he read the note. Kennedy got up from his 
chair, and disappeared through the door to his own office, abruptly ending 
the meeting. 344 He then flew quickly to Otis Air Base to be with Jackie. 

By the time he arrived, his four-pound, ten-and-one-half-ounce son, 
Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, had been delivered by Caesarean section and was 

in an oxygen-fed incubator. The premature baby "was suffering from hya- 
line membrane disease, a lung condition that blocked the supply of oxygen 
to the bloodstream." 345 The base chaplain immediately baptized him. While 
Jackie was still in surgery, her husband agreed with doctors to move Patrick 
to the better-equipped Children's Hospital in Boston. While an ambulance 
pulled up, JFK wheeled Patrick's incubator into Jackie's room for the only 
look she would ever have of her son. 346 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

As Patrick's breathing failed over the next day, doctors moved him again, 
this time to a high-pressure oxygen chamber in Harvard's School of Public 
Health, where JFK stayed overnight in a waiting room. At 2:00 A.M. on 
August 9, the president was awakened and summoned to the side of his son's 
oxygen chamber. When the doctors knew Patrick was about to die, they 
brought him out of the chamber to be with his father. Patrick died at 4:04 
A.M. on August 9, at the age of thirty-nine hours and twelve minutes, with 
his father holding his fingers. 347 

JFK went back to his room, sat on the bed, and wept. A helicopter took 
him to the Otis Air Base hospital, where he and Jackie spent an hour alone 
together. 348 

In his own dying child, Kennedy saw other afflicted children. While he 
was waiting to see Patrick for the last time, he noticed a badly burned child 
in another hospital room. He asked for the mother's name, borrowed pen 
and paper, and wrote an encouraging note to be given to her when she came 
to visit her child. 349 When he returned to the White House, now with an even 
deeper sense of the death of children, he worked with renewed determination 
for passage of the test ban treaty. Thanks to the mobilization campaign of 
Norman Cousins and the Citizens Committee, as overseen by the president, 
public opinion turned around. 

On August 28, Cousins sent a progress report to President Kennedy "on 
your specific suggestions for the public campaign to ratify the test ban treaty. " 
In his memorandum to the president, Cousins ticked off a series of recom- 
mendations JFK had given the Citizens Committee in the August 7 meeting. 
Cousins also listed the follow-up the committee had accomplished in the three 
weeks since then. It comprised an outreach program to the nation through 
business leaders, scientists, religious leaders, farmers, scholars and university 
presidents, unions, newspapers, key states, and liberal organizations such as 
SANE (National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), UWF (United World 
Federalists), and ADA (Americans for Democratic Action). 350 They had all 
been specified by Kennedy in the August 7 meeting, just before he was given 
word of Jacqueline's emergency and departed quickly from the White House. 
As the result of a whirlwind August campaign managed by Cousins, summa- 
rized in his memorandum to the man behind it, the American public reversed 
course on a critical Cold War issue. The people, and their president, were 
more open to change than Congress was. But senators could also feel new 
winds of peace blowing. They, too, turned toward a new possibility. 

The Senate approved the treaty by a decisive margin, 80 to 19, in Sep- 
tember. The miracle had happened. It did so with such apparent ease, 
through a unique coalition created by the president, that future historians 
would view Kennedy's success with the test ban treaty, less than a year after 
the Cuban Missile Crisis, as no great accomplishment. 

John and Jacqueline Kennedy's closest friends said Patrick's death affected 
them profoundly and brought them closer together 351 — eventually in Dallas. 

In late October, Jackie surprised her husband by agreeing readily to go with 

Washington and Dallas 


him to Texas, 352 on a political trip she did not look forward to happily 
into a part of the country where they anticipated a hostile reception. She sur- 
prised him again on the trip, after their warm receptions in San Antonio, 
Houston, and Fort Worth, by saying she'd go anywhere with him that year. 

JFK smiled, turned to Kenny O'Donnell, and said, "Did you hear that}" 3S3 

Then they prepared to board their plane to Dallas. 


hree hours later, Jackie Kennedy was sitting beside JFK in the back seat 

of the limousine as it was driven into Dealey Plaza. The following week, 
she described to writer Theodore H. White the death of her husband, as seen 
by the closest witness, herself. Her immediate description of the assassination 
would not be released to the American public until 1995: 

"They were gunning the motorcycles; there were these little backfires; 
there was one noise like that; I thought it was a backfire. Then next I saw 
[Governor] Connally [in the seat in front, who had just been shot] grabbing 
his arms and saying 'no no nononono,' with his fist beating — then Jack 
turned and I turned — all I remember was a blue gray building up ahead; then 
Jack turned back, so neatly; his last expression was so neat; he had his hand 
out, I could see a piece of his skull coming off; it was flesh colored not 
white — he was holding out his hand — and I can see this perfectly clean piece 
detaching itself from his head . . . " 354 

Her instinctive response to the fatal shot that blew out the back of his 
head was to climb on the trunk of the car to try to retrieve a portion of his 
skull. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who ran from the car behind and 
climbed on the limousine, testified to Jacqueline Kennedy's instinctive effort 
to put her husband's head back together. 

After "the second noise that I had heard had removed a portion of the 
President's head," Hill said, "Mrs. Kennedy had jumped up from the seat 
and was, it appeared to me, reaching for something coming off the right rear 
bumper of the car." 355 Hill grabbed her, put her back in her seat, and crawled 
up on top of the back seat. From his position looking down at the President's 
head, he saw, as they arrived at Parkland Hospital, that "the right rear por- 
tion of his head was missing." 356 

If "the right rear portion of his head was missing," as the Parkland doc- 
tors and nurses would soon confirm, then the shot causing that massive exit 
wound must have come from the front — not from the Texas School Book 
Depository in the rear where Oswald was. 

Jacqueline Kennedy recalled vividly what she was doing in the car on the 
way to the hospital: 

"I was trying to hold his hair on. But from the front there was nothing. I 
suppose there must have been. But from the back, you could see, you know, 
you were trying to hold his hair on, and his skull on." 357 

However, this description of her attempt to hold her husband's hair and 
skull together over a gaping wound was deleted from her Warren Commis- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

sion testimony, ostensibly because it would have been "in poor taste." 358 Per- 
haps more important to the censors, it could also have led to widespread 
recognition of evidence for a shot from the front. 

At least part of the "something" that Clint Hill said Mrs. Kennedy was 
reaching for so desperately from the trunk of the limousine may have been 
found the next day by a Dallas premedical student. At 5:30 P.M. on Saturday, 
November 23, William Allen Harper was taking photographs in the trian- 
gular grassy area in the center of Dealey Plaza. About twenty-five feet behind 
and to the left of the point on Elm Street where a shot had blown out the 
back of the president's skull, Harper discovered a large bone fragment in the 
grass. He took what would become known as the "Harper fragment" to his 
uncle, Dr. Jack C. Harper, at Methodist Hospital, who turned it over to Dr. 
A. B. Cairns, the hospital's chief pathologist. 359 

Dr. Cairns, Dr. Harper, and another pathologist, Dr. Gerard Noteboom, 
examined closely the five-by-seven-centimeter bone fragment. They agreed 
that it came from the occiput, the lower back part of a human skull. 360 The 
pathologists also noted evidence of a lead deposit on the fragment, suggest- 
ing the impact of a bullet. 361 Their fortuitous examination of the bone, and 
identification of its origin, would become a critical clue to a government 

Nine years later, a UCLA graduate student in physics named David Lif ton 
compared the Dallas pathologists' identification of the Harper fragment with 
the official government X-rays of the slain president's head. Lifton was puz- 
zled, then electrified by what the comparison revealed. He realized that if 
Dr. Cairns and his colleagues were correct, "the X-rays could not possibly be 
authentic, for nature provides us with only one occipital bone, and President 
Kennedy's occipital bone could not be lying on the grass of Dealey Plaza, 
and appear simultaneously in the X-rays of his skull taken that night at 
Bethesda [Naval Hospital]." 362 

The autopsy X-rays had been used as incontrovertible proof that there 
was no exit wound in the rear of the skull — and therefore no assassin in 
front. Yet twenty-one doctors, nurses, and Secret Service agents at Parkland 
Hospital in Dallas had all, in their earliest statements, said they had seen a 
large wound in the right rear portion of JFK's skull. 363 According to the X- 
rays' "more scientific" proof, they all had to be wrong. On the other hand, 
the Warren Commission had ignored Dr. Cairns's statement in an FBI inter- 
view that the Harper fragment "looked like it came from the occipital region 
of the skull," 364 precisely where the X-rays showed an intact skull. Some- 
thing strange was going on in the X-ray darkroom. 

After comparing the Harper fragment's place in the skull with what the 
president's X-rays showed was supposedly still there, David Lifton wrote to 
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Warren Commission dissenter, that the Harper fragment 
"was the medical equivalent of the legendary piece-of-a-dollar-bill which one 
carries to a rendezvous with an unknown person, where the trustworthiness 
of one's counterpart is vouched for by the fact that he can produce the other 

Washington and Dallas 


half . . . [W]hen one goes to a rendezvous with one-half of a dollar bill, and 
the other party produces the same half, that can only mean one thing." 365 

Dr. David W. Mantik, a radiation oncologist with a Ph.D. in physics, 
tested the autopsy X-rays at the National Archives in 1993-95 to determine 
their authenticity. He used an optical densitometer to measure the levels of 
light on different areas of the official X-rays, in which the denser parts of the 
skull would ordinarily produce whiter images on the X-rays and the more 
vacant parts would produce darker images. Mantik was puzzled by the X- 
rays' remarkable contrast between the front and back of Kennedy's skull, 
apparent even to the naked eye. By taking optical density measurements of 
the X-rays, what he discovered was, as he put it, "quite astonishing. The 
posterior white area transmits almost one thousand times more light than the 
dark area!" 366 There was far too much bone density being shown in the rear 
of JFK's skull relative to the front. The X-ray had to have been a composite. 
The optical density data indicated a forgery in which a patch had been placed 
over an original X-ray to cover the rear part of the skull — corresponding to 

the gap left in part by the Harper fragment, evidence of an exit wound. The 
obvious purpose was to cover up evidence of a shot from the front that, judg- 
ing from the original Parkland observations, had created an exit hole the size 
of one's fist in the back of the head. 367 

Dr. Mantik's optical density tests confirmed a radical hypothesis. The 
autopsy's skull X-rays, in which the Harper fragment had so wondrously 
rejoined a dead president's skull in spite of the fragment's simultaneous exis- 
tence elsewhere, had indeed been cleverly altered. Precisely where the gov- 
ernment had rested its case for a lone assassin on a claim of scientific 
evidence — in its autopsy X-rays — the public could now see for itself was evi- 
dence of fakery. The scientific evidence claimed by Warren Commission apol- 
ogists had been forged in the X-ray darkroom. Thanks to Dr. Mantik's 
experiments conducted during his visits to the National Archives (now avail- 
able to anyone who Googles "Twenty Conclusions after Nine Visits"), the 
unspeakable has been probed, verified, and documented. 

In the case of the government's X-rays, their exact duplication of the 
Harper fragment, as if that bullet-blasted bone were still in the slain presi- 
dent's skull, has turned out to be a revelation of the cover-up. When the gov- 
ernment's "best evidence" was finally examined independently, the tests 
showed the X-rays were a hoax. The bottom line of the Warren Report was 
a forgery. A fragment of the head that Jacqueline Kennedy had tried unsuc- 
cessfully to put together again has come back decades later to haunt the gov- 
ernment's cover-up. 


here was Lee Harvey Oswald when President John F. Kennedy was shot 
in Dealey Plaza? 

Less than half an hour after President Kennedy was murdered, the Asso- 
ciated Press wired to newspapers around the world a picture of the assassi- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

nation taken by Dallas AP photographer James "Ike" Altgens. The clear, 
black-and-white, head-on photograph of the approaching presidential lim- 
ousine showed JFK through the windshield clutching at his throat, while 
spectators in the background lined the sidewalk in front of the Texas School 
Book Depository. This first pictorial evidence of the assassination showed 
the upper half of a man behind the limousine, standing in the doorway of the 
Book Depository. When the man's image in the picture was blown up, many 
people thought he looked like Lee Harvey Oswald. 

If it was Oswald, how could he be watching the motorcade from the door- 
way of the Book Depository at the same time as he was shooting the presi- 
dent from a sixth-floor window of the same building? The Altgens photo, 
which was distributed to newspapers around the globe, seemed to exonerate 
Lee Harvey Oswald even before he was charged with the crime. 

Oswald himself may have said he was standing in the doorway — with his 
words then purged from all records. For the twelve hours he was interro- 
gated through three days by both local and federal investigators, the Warren 
Report stated incredibly: "There were no stenographic or tape recordings of 
these interviews." 368 If we can believe that none of these officials tape- 
recorded the accused assassin's statements, we are then asked to accept their 
distillation of his words in only "the most important" of their "prepared 
memoranda setting forth their recollections of the questioning of Oswald 
and his responses." 369 

After this total screening of Oswald's actual words from public scrutiny, 
we are told that when he was asked "what part of the building he was in at 
the time the President was shot," "he said that he was having his lunch about 
that time on the first floor." 370 As Captain Fritz (who wrote this memoran- 
dum) knew, "about that time" did not answer the question. If Oswald gave 
that much of an alibi, he would have spelled out where he was at the actual 
time Kennedy was shot. However, Fritz skips over that critical moment and 
goes on to the aftermath of the assassination, saying Oswald added that "he 
went to the second floor where the Coca Cola machine was located and 
obtained a bottle of Coca Cola for his lunch." 371 

That is the same location, in the second-floor lunchroom with the Coca 
Cola machine, where a Book Depository secretary reported seeing Oswald 
at a time between 12:15 and 12:25 P.M. (when the Warren Report had 
Oswald at a sixth-floor window preparing to shoot President Kennedy). Car- 
olyn Arnold walked into the lunchroom to get a glass of water before going 
outside to see the president. Oswald, she said, was already in the lunchroom. 

"I do not recall that he was doing anything," she said in an interview. "I 
just recall that he was sitting there in one of the booth seats on the right 
hand side of the room as you go in. He was alone as usual and appeared to 
be having lunch. I did not speak to him but I recognized him clearly." 372 

As Oswald apparently told Fritz, he returned to the second floor lunch- 
room and its Coke machine — with his presence there confirmed by witnesses 

Washington and Dallas 


at 12:31 P.M. However, the Warren Report claimed Oswald went there not 
from the first floor but from the sixth — after killing the president. 

At 12:31 P.M., as the Report narrates, Dallas patrolman M. L. Baker, 
accompanied by Depository superintendent Roy Truly, rushed up the Depos- 
itory stairs. About a minute and a quarter to a minute and a half after the 
first shot was fired in Dealey Plaza, Baker pushed open the door of the 
second-floor lunchroom. 373 With his revolver drawn, he confronted Lee Har- 
vey Oswald, who was walking toward a Coca Cola machine. 374 

"Come here," Baker said. Oswald turned and walked toward him. 375 

Baker turned to Truly and said, "Do you know this man? Does he work 
here?" 376 

Truly said yes. Baker turned around, went out, and continued climbing the 
stairs. Oswald apparently finished buying a drink from the vending machine. 
Within a minute, Mrs. R. A. Reid, clerical supervisor for the Depository, saw 
him walk through the clerical office on the second floor. He was holding a 
bottle of Coca Cola. 377 

The Warren Commission decided Oswald had just barely enough time, 
after he supposedly shot the president and Governor Connally, to hide his 
rifle and go down four flights of stairs into the lunchroom. Yet, according to 
both Baker and Truly, Oswald was remarkably composed. In response to 
questions from the Warren Commission, Baker affirmed that Oswald "did 
not seem to be out of breath" and "did not show any evidence of any emo- 
tion." 378 Truly said Oswald "didn't seem to be excited or overly afraid or 
anything," 379 after having just accomplished the crime of the century and a 
quick trip down the stairs. 

How is one to explain the presumed assassin's composure? Altgens's pho- 
tograph would have helped — showing a man who seemed to be Oswald 
standing in the building's doorway a minute earlier, not shooting the presi- 
dent but watching the motorcade. That was not the explanation desired, as 
would be apparent by the Warren Commission's treatment of the Altgens 

The Warren Report's reprinted version of the photo is a travesty of Alt- 
gens's work as a professional photographer. 380 What the Report presents to 
the public is the Commission's reduced, cropped, indistinct printing of an 
FBI copy of a magazine copy of the originally crystal-clear picture. 381 In this 
smaller, muddied FBI/Warren Commission print, the man in the doorway is 
impossible to identify. By deliberately using a smaller fourth-generation print, 
the government made the image* of the man too tiny and blurred to be rec- 
ognizable. The Report's deliberately flawed reproduction of the Altgens 
photo changed the man in the doorway from a challenging image into an 
abstract speculation, which could then be disposed of without making any 
visual comparisons to pictures of Oswald taken later that day in strikingly 
similar clothing. Such comparisons could have threatened the government's 
entire case. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

In an appendix titled "Speculations and Rumors," the Report dismisses 
the speculation that "a picture published widely in newspapers and maga- 
zines after the assassination showed Lee Harvey Oswald standing on the 
front steps of the Texas School Book Depository shortly before [correction: 
immediately after] the President's motorcade passed by." 382 

The Warren Commission's official finding regarding this "speculation" is: 

"The man on the front steps of the building, thought or alleged by some to 
be Lee Harvey Oswald, is actually Billy Lovelady, an employee of the Texas 
School Book Depository, who somewhat resembles Oswald. Lovelady has 
identified himself in the picture, and other employees of the Depository 
standing with him, as shown in the picture, have verified that he was the 
man in the picture and that Oswald was not there." 383 

By surveying a wealth of Warren Commission documents, researcher Hal 
Verb has established the fact that there were either thirteen or fourteen indi- 
viduals in the entrance way and on the front steps of the Texas School Book 
Depository at the time of the assassination. 384 If Oswald was present, there 
were thirteen others with him, including Billy Lovelady. Yet the Warren Com- 
mission asked only three of those thirteen available witnesses anything bear- 
ing on the question whether Oswald was the man shown standing on the 

front steps, framed by the doorway. The three chosen witnesses were: 
William H. Shelley, a Book Depository manager and Oswald's immediate 
boss; Buell Wesley Frazier, Oswald's co-worker who drove him to work that 
morning; Billy Lovelady, another Oswald co-worker, who the Warren Report 
claimed was the man in the doorway. 385 

Contrary to the Warren Report, William H. Shelley, in his testimony to 
two Warren Commission lawyers, said nothing to verify that Billy Lovelady 
was the man in the Altgens picture. 386 In a statement to the FBI three weeks 
earlier, Shelley in fact ruled out the possibility of Billy Lovelady being the 
man in the picture. He said: "I recall that as the Presidential Motorcade 
passed I was standing just outside the glass doors of the entrance. At the 
time President John F. Kennedy was shot I was standing at this same place. 
Billy N. Lovelady who works under my supervision for the Texas School 
Book depository was seated on the entrance steps just in front of me." 387 

"The man in the doorway" in Altgens's photograph is standing at the far 
left side of the building's entrance, as seen by the photographer. Shelley was 
standing on the right side of the entrance. Billy Lovelady's position, seated 
on the entrance steps just in front of Shelley, made it impossible for him to 
be the man in the picture who looked like Lee Harvey Oswald. 

In contrast to William Shelley, both Buell Wesley Frazier and Billy Nolan 
Lovelady did seem to identify the man in the doorway as Lovelady. Accord- 
ing to their testimony, each of them placed his own arrow on Commission 
Exhibit 369 (the Altgens photograph), pointing to the doorway figure as 
Lovelady. 388 The resulting exhibit is itself ambiguous, showing only one 
arrow, not two — causing critics to question it as tainted evidence. 389 

Washington and Dallas 


Complicating the government's and Lovelady's claim that he was the 
Oswald-like man is the unusual shirt worn by the man in the doorway. As 
shown in Harold Weisberg's blowup of the figure in Whitewash II, the man's 
shirt has a distinctive pattern, with tears in it and several buttons missing — 
matching exactly the shirt Oswald can be seen wearing in photographs taken 
after his arrest. 390 Yet, when Billy Lovelady finally came forward in 1976 
with the shirt he said he had worn in Dealey Plaza, the House Select Com- 
mittee on Assassinations used it to reaffirm the Warren Commission's shaky 
claim that the man in the photo was Lovelady. 391 

We now have images of that shirt from November 22, 1963. By studying 
a little-known film taken in front of the Book Depository immediately after 
the assassination, Harold Weisberg discovered pictures of Billy Lovelady in 

his shirt. 392 As a result, Lovelady's shirt can be compared closely with the 
doorway man's shirt and Lee Oswald's shirt after his arrest, as David Wrone 
has done in his book, The Zap ruder Film. 393 Wrone concludes that Billy 
Lovelady's shirt is distinctly different from the other two, which turn out to 
be identical. 

When I interviewed James Anthony Botelho, who was Lee Harvey 
Oswald's roommate at the Santa Ana, California, Marine base in the sum- 
mer of 1959, Botelho raised the question of the image in the Altgens photo. 
He said that by looking at it closely he could tell it was a picture of Oswald. 
How did he know that? Botelho said Oswald had a nervous habit of pulling 
the collar of his t-shirt down and stretching it out of shape. The t-shirt col- 
lar of the man in the doorway, he said, looked just that way. 394 

After interviewing Botelho, I looked at pictures taken of Oswald in his t- 
shirt while he was in the custody of the Dallas Police, as compared to a 
blowup of the man in the doorway. The t-shirts of both seemed to confirm 
what Botelho said about Oswald. They also brought home a striking contrast 
with the movie film pictures of Billy Lovelady taken immediately after the 
assassination. Whereas Oswald and the man in the doorway had the upper 
halves of their outer shirts unbuttoned, exposing t-shirts with identical, 
pulled-down collars, Lovelady had his outer shirt buttoned all the way up to 
the collar, covering his t-shirt. 395 Based on clothing alone, it was clear Love- 
lady could not have been the man in the Book Depository doorway when the 
presidential motorcade went by. 

The Warren Commission not only avoided examining the evidence of the 
clothing worn by the doorway man. It also tried to obscure his image in its 
records and in the photograph it presented to the public. Would an innocent 
government in search of the truth have taken such steps ? 


arren Commission counsel David Belin wrote: "The Rosetta Stone [the 
key to Egyptian hieroglyphics] to the solution of President Kennedy's 
murder is the murder of Officer J. D. Tippit." 396 From the Warren Commis- 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

sion's standpoint, the killing of Tippit, who presumably challenged the assas- 
sin's flight after he killed Kennedy, was said to prove "that Oswald had the 
capacity to kill." 397 

Warren Commission critic Harold Weisberg saw Tippit's murder instead 
as the government's way of poisoning the public mind against Lee Harvey 
Oswald: "Immediately the [flimsy] police case [against Oswald] required a 
willingness to believe. This was provided by affixing to Oswald the oppro- 
brious epithet of 'cop-killer.'" 398 

According to the Warren Report, the tracking of Oswald from Dealey 
Plaza to Tippit's murder began with eyewitness Howard Brennan, a forty- 
five-year-old steamfitter who was standing across the street from the Texas 
School Book Depository watching the presidential motorcade. Brennan told 
a police officer right after the assassination that he saw a man standing in a 
sixth-floor window of the Depository fire a rifle at the president's car. 399 The 
Warren Report says Brennan described the standing shooter as "white, slen- 
der, weighing about 165 pounds, about 5' 10" tall, and in his early thirties," 
a description matching Oswald that was radioed to Dallas Police cars at 
approximately 12:45 P.M. 400 Yet, as Mark Lane pointed out, "There could not 
have been a man standing and firing from [the sixth-floor window] because, 
as photographs of the building taken within seconds of the assassination 
prove, the window was open only partially at the bottom, and one shooting 
from a standing position would have been obliged to fire through the 
glass." 401 Moreover, Brennan's testimony that the man firing the rifle "was 
standing up and resting against the left windowsill" 402 was also impossible 
because the windowsill was only a foot from the floor, with the window 
opened about fourteen inches. 403 So if it was impossible for key witness 
Howard Brennan to have provided such a description, and if the Warren 
Commission could cite only him as a source for the 12:45 P.M. police descrip- 
tion, who put out that Oswald-like alert if not the conspirators? 

Supposedly on the basis of nothing more than that radioed description, 
Officer Tippit stopped his car at 1:15 P.M. to confront a man walking on East 
10th Street in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas. The man then shot Tippit to 
death. The murderer fled the scene on foot. Half an hour later, the man was 
reported sneaking into the Texas Theater, which the Dallas police then 
stormed, arresting a man who was soon identified as Lee Harvey Oswald. 

As Weisberg pointed out, the killing of Tippit provided a dramatic rein- 
forcement of Oswald's assumed killing of Kennedy. At the same time, the 
killing of a fellow police officer helped motivate the Dallas police to kill an 
armed Oswald in the Texas Theater, which would have disposed of the scape- 
goat before he could protest his being framed. 

Once again, however, the assassination script was imperfectly carried out. 
Oswald survived his arrest in the theater. And as in a flawed movie where 
scene variations are shot, doubles are used, and the director is in a hurry, the 
final version of this film for our viewing doesn't add up. The Warren Com- 

Washington and Dallas 


mission's attempt to squeeze it all into a lone-gunman explanation has 
resulted in an implausible narrative. 

According to the Warren Report, between President Kennedy's assassina- 
tion at 12:30 P.M. and Officer Tippit's murder at 1:15 p.m., Lee Harvey 
Oswald did the following: 

After the lone assassin shot the president to death and wounded Gover- 
nor Connally from a sixth-floor window in the Texas School Book Deposi- 
tory, 404 he hid his rifle and stepped quickly down four flights of stairs to the 
lunchroom, where he was seen calmly preparing to buy a bottle of Coca Cola 
from a vending machine. 405 He escaped from the building and walked seven 
blocks. 406 He took a bus that was headed back toward the Texas School Book 
Depository, got stuck with the bus in a traffic jam, and got off it. He walked 
three to four blocks to hire a taxi. 407 He offered to give up his taxi to an old 
lady when she asked his driver for help finding a cab (an offer she refused, 

allowing him to continue his escape without changing taxis). 408 He rode 2.4 
miles in the taxi, taking him five blocks too far past his rooming house. 409 He 
paid his fare, got out, and walked five blocks back to his rooming house. 410 
"He went on to his room and stayed about 3 or 4 minutes," 411 picked up his 
jacket and a revolver, and departed. 412 The housekeeper saw him standing in 

front of the house by the stop for a northbound bus. 413 He apparently gave 
up on the bus and instead walked south another remarkably brisk nine-tenths 
mile. 414 All of these actions, following his killing of the president, were, by 
the Commission's timetable, accomplished in forty-five minutes. 415 Oswald 
then, we are told, used his revolver to calmly murder Officer J. D. Tippit on 
a quiet street in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, "removing the empty 
cartridge cases from the gun as he went," 416 helpfully leaving a trail of bal- 
listic evidence for the police to collect. He thereby aborted his escape and 
became a magnet for a massive police chase. The police arrested him in the 
Texas Theater at 1:50 P.M. 417 

This jam-packed scenario was created by more than one man bearing 
Oswald's likeness, with help from behind the scenes. At 12:40 P.M., exactly 
the same time that Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig and Helen Forrest saw 
Oswald get into a Rambler station wagon in front of the Book Depository, 

Oswald's former landlady, Mary Bledsoe, saw him board a bus seven blocks 
east of the Depository. 418 Oswald told Captain Will Fritz he rode the bus, 
until its holdup in traffic made him switch to a taxi. 419 A bus transfer found 
in his shirt pocket at his arrest seemed to confirm the short bus trip. 420 Yet 
when Fritz told Oswald that Craig had seen him depart by car, Oswald said 
defensively, "That station wagon belongs to Mrs. Paine. Don't try to drag her 
into this." 421 

When he added dejectedly, "Everybody will know who I am now," 
Oswald seemed to imply that his (or a double's) departure in the station 
wagon, and the vehicle's association with Mrs. Paine, were keys to his real 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

If he was not the man picked up by the station wagon, then Roger Craig 
and Helen Forrest had seen, in Forrest's words, "his identical twin." 422 The 
man spirited away by the Nash Rambler had been either Oswald or a dou- 
ble; driven, Craig said, by "a husky looking Latin." 423 

Besides the mysterious Nash Rambler that was in the end spotted by so 
many mutually supportive witnesses — Craig, Forrest, Pennington, Carr, 
Robinson, and Cooper — there may have been two more cars even more 
deeply in the shadows that helped Lee Harvey Oswald make his otherwise 
unlikely transitions that climactic afternoon in the assassination plot. 
Another car appeared out of nowhere when he arrived at his rooming house. 

After Oswald went to his room at 1:00 P.M., the housekeeper, Mrs. Ear- 

lene Roberts, saw a police car stop directly in front of the house. She told the 
Warren Commission that two uniformed policemen were in the car. The 
driver sounded the horn, "just kind of a 'tit-tit' — twice," 424 an unmistakable 
signal, then eased the car forward and went around the corner. 425 

After "about three or four minutes," 426 Oswald returned from his room 
and went outside. Before Mrs. Roberts turned her attention elsewhere, she 
saw him standing in front of the house by a northbound bus stop — to be 
heard from next in the Warren Report twelve minutes later as the apparent 
killer of Officer Tippit near the corner of Tenth and Patton, almost one mile 
away in the opposite direction. How he got there in time to kill Tippit, or 
even //he did, has never been clearly established. 427 

He may have been picked up by the Dallas police car that parked briefly 
in front of the house, beeped its horn twice lightly — tap, tap — in an appar- 
ent signal, and drove around the corner (perhaps only to circle the block and 
return for him). Earlene Roberts told the Warren Commission that the num- 
ber on the police car was 107. 428 As the Commission's staff would discover, 
the Dallas Police Department no longer had a car 107. It had sold its car 
107 on April 17, 1963, to a used car dealer. The Dallas Police would not 
resume using the number 107 until February 1964, three months after the 
assassination. 429 If Mrs. Roberts had the car's number right, then the horn 
signal to Oswald came from two uniformed men in a counterfeit police car. 
Their likely destination, with Oswald as their passenger, was the Texas The- 
ater, where they would drop off Oswald for a setup for his arrest and mur- 
der — while the Oswald impostor in the Nash Rambler was being let off for 
a short walk to meet Officer Tippit in a fatal encounter at Tenth and Patton. 

The Warren Report describes the murder of Officer Tippit "at approxi- 
mately 1:15 P.M.," after he confronted a man walking east along the south 
side of Patton: "The man's general description was similar to the one broad- 
cast over the police radio. Tippit stopped the man and called him to his car. 
He approached the car and apparently exchanged words with Tippit through 
the right front or vent window. Tippit got out and started to walk around the 
front of the car. As Tippit reached the left front wheel the man pulled out a 
revolver and fired several shots. Four bullets hit Tippit and killed him 

Washington and Dallas 


instantly. The gunman started back toward Patton Avenue, ejecting the empty 
cartridge cases before reloading with fresh bullets." 430 

As the gunman walked and trotted away from the murder scene while 
still holding the revolver, the Warren Report says he was seen by at least 
twelve persons: "By the evening of November 22, five of them had identified 
Lee Harvey Oswald in police lineups as the man they saw. A sixth did so the 
next day. Three others subsequently identified Oswald from a photograph. 
Two witnesses testified that Oswald resembled the man they had seen. One 
witness felt he was too distant from the gunman to make a positive identifi- 
cation." 431 

The fleeing man identified later as Oswald was seen finally by Johnny 
Calvin Brewer, manager of Hardy's Shoestore, located a few doors east of the 
Texas Theater. After spotting the man acting suspiciously in the recessed area 
in front of his store, Brewer went outside. He saw the man ducking into the 
theater up the block. The ticket-seller, Julia Postal, confirmed to Brewer that 
the man had not bought a ticket. She called the police. 432 

However, the man who shot Tippit, fled the murder scene, sneaked into 
the Texas Theater just before 1:45 P.M., and was identified as Lee Harvey 
Oswald, posed another bi-location problem. Oswald once again seemed to 

be in two places at the same time. 

According to Warren H. "Butch" Burroughs, the concession stand oper- 
ator at the Texas Theater, Lee Harvey Oswald entered the theater sometime 
between 1:00 and 1:07 P.M., several minutes before Officer Tippit was slain 
seven blocks away. 433 If true, Butch Burroughs's observation would elimi- 
nate Oswald as a candidate for Tippet's murder. Perhaps for that reason, 
Burroughs was asked by a Warren Commission attorney the apparently 
straightforward question, "Did you see [Oswald] come in the theater?" and 
answered honestly, "No, sir; I didn't." 434 What someone reading this testi- 
mony would not know is that Butch Burroughs was unable to see anyone 
enter the theater from where he was standing at his concession stand, unless 
that person came into the area where he was working. As he explained to me 
in an interview, there was a partition between his concession stand and the 
front door. Someone could enter the theater, go directly up a flight of stairs 
to the balcony, and not be seen from the concession stand. 435 That, Burroughs 
said, is what Oswald apparently did. However, Burroughs still knew Oswald 
had come into the theater "between 1:00 and 1:07 P.M." because he saw him 
inside the theater soon after that. As he told me, he sold popcorn to Oswald 
at 1:15 P.M. 436 — information that the Warren Commission did not solicit from 
him in his testimony. When Oswald bought his popcorn at 1:15 P.M., this 
was exactly the same time the Warren Report said Officer Tippit was being 
shot to death 437 — evidently by someone else. 

Butch Burroughs was not alone in noticing Oswald in the Texas Theater 
by then. The man who would soon be identified as the president's assassin 
drew the attention of several moviegoers because of his odd behavior. 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

Edging into a row of seats in the right rear section of the ground floor, 
Oswald had squeezed in front of eighteen-year-old Jack Davis. He then sat 
down in the seat right next to him. Because there were fewer than twenty 
people in the entire nine-hundred-seat theater, Davis wondered why the man 
chose such close proximity to him. Whatever the reason, the man didn't stay 

there long. Oswald (as Davis would later identify him) got up quickly, moved 
across the aisle, and sat down next to someone else in the almost deserted 
theater. In a few moments, he stood up again and walked out to the lobby. 438 

Davis thought it obvious Oswald was looking for someone. 439 Yet it must 
have been someone he didn't know personally. He sat next to each new per- 
son just long enough to receive a prearranged signal, in the absence of which 
he moved on to another possible contact. 

Back out in the lobby at 1:15 P.M., Oswald then bought popcorn from 
Butch Burroughs at the concession stand. 440 Burroughs told author Jim Marrs 
and myself that he saw Oswald go back in the ground floor of the theater and 
sit next to a pregnant woman 441 — in another apparently fruitless effort to 
find his contact. Several minutes later, "the pregnant woman got up and went 
to the ladies washroom," Burroughs said. He "heard the restroom door close 
just shortly before Dallas police came rushing into the theater." 442 Jack Davis 
said it may have been "twenty minutes or so" after Oswald returned from 

the lobby (when Burroughs saw Oswald sit by the pregnant woman) that 
the house lights came on and the police rushed in. 443 

The police arrested Oswald in a curious way. They entered the theater 
from the front and back, blocking all exits and surrounding Oswald. Offi- 
cer M. N. McDonald and three other officers came in from behind the movie 
screen. With the theater lights on, McDonald scanned the audience. 444 
Johnny Brewer, who had seen the man who looked like Oswald duck into the 
theater, showed McDonald where the man was sitting — in the third row from 
the rear of the ground floor. 445 

With the suspect identified and located, McDonald and an accompanying 
officer, instead of apprehending the man in the rear of the theater, began 

searching people between him and them. 446 As the police proceeded slowly 
toward Oswald, it was almost as if they were provoking the suspected police- 
killer to break away from his seat. His attempt to escape would have given 
Tippit's enraged fellow officers an excuse to shoot him. 447 

When McDonald finally reached his suspect in the third row from the 
back, Oswald stood up and pulled out his pistol. While he struggled with 
McDonald and the other officers who had converged on the scene, they heard 
the snap of the hammer on his gun misfiring. 448 However, Oswald, instead 
of being shot to death on the spot, was wrestled into submission by the police 
and placed under arrest. The police hustled him out to a squad car. They 
drove him to Dallas Police Headquarters in City Hall. 

Butch Burroughs, who witnessed Oswald's arrest, startled me in his inter- 
view by saying he saw a second arrest occur in the Texas Theater only "three 
or four minutes later." 449 He said the Dallas Police then arrested "an Oswald 

Washington and Dallas 


lookalike." Burroughs said the second man "looked almost like Oswald, like 
he was his brother or something." 450 When I questioned the comparison by 
asking, "Could you see the second man as well as you could see Oswald?" 
he said, "Yes, I could see both of them. They looked alike." 451 After the offi- 
cers half -carried and half -dragged Oswald to the police car in front of the the- 
ater, within a space of three or four minutes, Burroughs saw the second 
Oswald placed under arrest and handcuffed. The Oswald look-alike, how- 
ever, was taken by police not out the front but out the back of the theater. 452 

What happened next we can learn from another neglected witness, 
Bernard Haire. 453 

Bernard J. Haire was the owner of Bernie's Hobby House, just two doors 
east of the Texas Theater. Haire went outside his store when he saw police 
cars congregating in front of the theater. 454 When he couldn't see what was 
happening because of the crowd, he went back through his store into the 
alley out back. It, too, was full of police cars, but there were fewer specta- 
tors. Haire walked up the alley. When he stopped opposite the rear door of 
the theater, he witnessed what he would think for decades was the arrest of 
Lee Harvey Oswald. 

"Police brought a young white man out," Haire told an interviewer. "The 
man was dressed in a pullover shirt and slacks. He seemed to be flushed, as 
if he'd been in a struggle. Police put the man in a police car and drove off." 455 

When Haire was told in 1987 that Lee Harvey Oswald had been brought 
out the front of the theater by police, he was shocked. 

"I don't know who I saw arrested," he said in bewilderment. 456 

Butch Burroughs and Bernard Haire are complementary witnesses. From 
their perspectives both inside and outside the Texas Theater, they saw an 
Oswald double arrested and taken to a police car in the back alley only min- 
utes after the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald. Burroughs's and Haire's inde- 
pendent, converging testimonies provide critical insight into the mechanics 
of the plot. In a comprehensive intelligence scenario for Kennedy's and Tip- 
pit's murders, the plan culminated in Oswald's Friday arrest and Sunday 
murder (probably a fallback from his being set up to be killed in the Texas 
Theater by the police). 

There is a hint of the second Oswald's arrest in the Dallas police records. 

According to the Dallas Police Department's official Homicide Report on 
J. D. Tippit, "Suspect was later arrested in the balcony of the Texas theatre 
at 231 W.Jefferson." 457 

Dallas Police detective L. D. Stringfellow also reported to Captain W. P. 
Gannaway, "Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in the balcony of the Texas 
Theater." 458 

To whom are the Homicide Report and Detective Stringfellow referring? 
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in the orchestra, not the balcony. Are these 
documents referring to the Dallas Police Department's second arrest at the 
Texas Theater that afternoon? Was Butch Burroughs witnessing an arrest of 
the Oswald look-alike that actually began in the balcony? That would have 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

likely been the double's hiding place, after he entered the theater without 
paying, thereby drawing attention to himself and leading the police to the 
apprehension of his likeness, Lee Harvey Oswald (who was already inside). 
As Butch Burroughs pointed out, anyone coming in the front of the theater 
could head immediately up the stairs to the balcony without being seen from 
the concession stand. 

The Oswald double, after having been put in the police car in the alley, 
must have been driven a short distance and released on higher intelligence 
orders. Unfortunately for the plotters, he was seen again soon. With the 
scapegoat, Lee Harvey Oswald, now safely in custody, we can presume that 
the double was not supposed to be seen again in Dallas — or anywhere else. 
Had he not been seen, the CIA's double-Oswald strategy in an Oak Cliff shell 
game might have eluded independent investigators forever. But thanks to 
other key witnesses who have emerged, we now have detailed evidence that 
the double was seen again — not just once but twice. 

At 2:00 P.M., as Lee Harvey Oswald sat handcuffed in the back seat of a 
patrol car boxed in by police officers on his way to jail, Oswald knew what 
final role had been chosen for him in the assassination scenario. That night, 
while being led through police headquarters, he would shout out to the press, 
"I'm just a patsy!" 459 

Also at about 2:00 P.M., a man identified as Oswald was seen in a car eight 
blocks away from the Texas Theater, still very much at large and keeping a 
low profile. 460 A sharp-eyed auto mechanic spotted him. 

T. F. White was a sixty-year-old, longtime employee of Mack Pate's Garage 
in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. While White worked on an automobile the 
afternoon of the assassination, he could hear police sirens screaming up and 
down Davis Street only a block away. He also heard radio reports describ- 
ing a suspect then thought to be in Oak Cliff. 461 The mechanic looked out the 
open doors of the garage. He watched as a red 1961 Falcon drove into the 
parking lot of the El Chico restaurant across the street. The Falcon parked 
in an odd position after going a few feet into the lot. The driver remained 
seated in the car. 462 White said later, "The man in the car appeared to be hid- 
ing." 463 White kept his eye on the man in the Falcon. 

When Mack Pate returned from his lunch break a few minutes later, T. F. 
White pointed out to his boss the oddly parked Falcon with its waiting driver 
who seemed to be hiding. Pate told White to watch the car carefully, remind- 
ing him of earlier news reports they had heard about a possible assassination 
attempt against President Kennedy in Houston the day before involving a 
red Falcon. 464 

T. F. White walked across the street to investigate. He halted about ten to 
fifteen yards from the car. He could see the driver was wearing a white t- 
shirt. 465 The man turned toward White and looked at him full face. White 
stared back at him. Not wanting to provoke a possible assassin, White began 
a retreat to the garage. However, he paused, took a scrap of paper from his 

Washington and Dallas 


coveralls pocket, and wrote down the Texas license plate of the car: PP 
4537. 466 

That night, while T. F. White was watching television with his wife, he 
recognized the Dallas Police Department's prisoner, Lee Harvey Oswald, as 
the man he had seen in the red Falcon in El Chico's parking lot. White was 
unfazed by what he did not yet know — that at the same time he had seen one 
Oswald sitting freely in the Falcon, the other Oswald was sitting handcuffed 
in a Dallas police car on his way to jail. Mrs. White, fearing the encompass- 
ing arms of a conspiracy, talked her husband out of reporting his informa- 
tion to the authorities. 467 Thus, the Oswald sighted in the parking lot might 
have escaped history, but for the fact White was confronted by an alert 

On December 4, 1963, Wes Wise, a Dallas newscaster whose specialty 
was sports, gave a luncheon talk to the Oak Cliff Exchange Club at El 
Chico's restaurant. At the urging of his listeners, he changed his topic from 
sports to the president's assassination, which Wise had covered. He described 
to his luncheon audience how he, as a reporter, had become a part of Jack 
Ruby's story. Wise's encounter with the man he knew as a news groupie came 
on the grassy knoll, the day before Ruby shot Oswald. Wise had just com- 
pleted a somber, day-after-the-assassination radio newscast from the site 
banked with wreaths. 

While he sat in his car in silent reflection beside the Texas School Book 
Depository, he heard a familiar voice call out, "Hey, Wes!" 

As Wise told the story, "I turned to see the portly figure of a man in a 
dark suit, half-waddling, half-trotting, as he came toward me. He was wear- 
ing a fedora-style hat which would later become familiar and famous." Jack 
Ruby was making his way along the grassy knoll "from the direction of the 
railroad tracks," precisely where the day before, as Ed Hoffman watched, 
another man in a suit had fired a rifle at the president — an hour and a half 
after Julia Ann Mercer saw a man, dropped off by Jack Ruby, carry a rifle 
up the same site. 

Ruby leaned into Wise's car window and said, his voice breaking and with 
tears in his eyes, "I just hope they don't make Jackie come to Dallas for the 
trial. That would be terrible for that little lady." 468 

In retrospect, Wise wondered if Ruby was trying to set him up for a radio 
interview — to go on record the day before with his famous "motive" for 
murdering Oswald. Although Wise had no interest then in interviewing Jack 

Ruby, he had already just been told enough for him to be called as a witness 
in Ruby's trial. He would be subpoenaed as a Ruby witness by both the pros- 
ecution and the defense. 469 His testimony at the trial, quoting what Ruby 
said to him the day before Ruby murdered Oswald, would then be cited in 
Life magazine. 470 

At the end of Wise's talk to his absorbed audience at the Oak Cliff 
Exchange Club, Mack Pate, who had walked across the street from his 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

garage to listen, gave the newscaster a new lead. He told Wise about his 
mechanic having seen Oswald. Wise asked to go immediately with Pate to 
speak with his employee. 471 

As Wes Wise told me in an interview four decades later, he then "put a lit- 
tle selling job on Mr. White" to reveal what he had seen. Wise said to the 
reluctant auto mechanic, "Well, you know, we're talking about the assassi- 
nation of the president of the United States here." 472 

Convinced of his duty, T. F. White took Wise into El Chico's parking lot 
and walked him step by step through his "full face" encounter with Oswald. 
Wise realized the car had been parked at the center of Oswald's activity in 
Oak Cliff that afternoon: one block from where Oswald got out of the taxi, 
six blocks south of his rooming house, eight blocks north of his arrest at the 
Texas Theater, and only five blocks from Tippit's murder on a route in 
between. 473 

Taking notes on his luncheon invitation, Wise said, "I just wish you had 
gotten the license number." 

White reached in his pocket and took out a scrap of paper with writing 
on it. He handed it to Wise. 

"This is it," he said. 474 

Newscaster Wes Wise notified the FBI of White's identification of Oswald 

in the car parked in the El Chico lot, and cited the license plate number. FBI 
agent Charles T. Brown, Jr., reported from an interview with Milton Love, 

Dallas County Tax Office: "1963 Texas License Plate PP 4537 was issued for 
a 1957 Plymouth automobile in possession of Carl Amos Mather, 4309 Col- 
gate Street, Garland, Texas." 475 Agent Brown then drove to that address. He 
reported that the 1957 Plymouth bearing license plate PP 4537 was parked 
in the driveway of Mather's home in Garland, a suburb of Dallas. 476 Thus 
arose the question of how a license plate for Carl Amos Mather's Plymouth 
came to be seen on the Falcon in El Chico's parking lot, with a man in it 

who looked like Oswald. 

The FBI had also discovered that Carl Amos Mather did high-security 
communications work for Collins Radio, a major contractor with the Cen- 
tral Intelligence Agency. Three weeks before Kennedy's assassination, Collins 
Radio had been identified on the front page of the New York Times as hav- 
ing just deployed a CIA raider ship on an espionage and sabotage mission 
against Cuba. 477 Collins also held the government contract for installing com- 
munications towers in Vietnam. 478 In 1971, Collins Radio would merge with 
another giant military contractor, Rockwell International. 479 In November 

1963, Collins was at the heart of the CIA-military-contracting business for 
state-of-the-art communications systems. 

Carl Mather had represented Collins at Andrews Air Force Base by put- 
ting special electronics equipment in Vice President Lyndon Johnson's Air 
Force Two plane. 480 Given the authority of his CIA-linked security clearance, 
Carl Mather refused to speak to the FBI. 481 The FBI instead questioned his 

Washington and Dallas 


wife, Barbara Mather, who stunned them. Her husband, she said, was a good 
friend of J. D. Tippit. In fact, the Mathers were such close friends of Tippit 
and his wife that when J. D. was murdered, Marie Tippit phoned them. 
According to his wife, Carl Mather left work that afternoon at 3:30 and 
returned home. 482 Carl and Barbara Mather then drove to the Tippit home, 
where they consoled Marie Tippit on the death of her husband (killed by a 
man identical to the one seen a few minutes later five blocks away in a car 
bearing the Mathers' license plate number). 

Fifteen years after the assassination, Carl Mather did finally consent to an 

interview for the first time — with the House Select Committee on Assassi- 
nations, but on condition that he be granted immunity from prosecution. 483 
The electronics specialist could not explain how his car's license number 
could have been seen on the Falcon with its Oswald-like driver in the El 
Chico lot. 484 

The HSCA dismissed the incident as "the Wise allegation," 485 in which a 
confused auto mechanic had jotted down a coincidentally connected license 
plate, as "alleged" by a reporter. The odds against White having come up 
with the exact license plate of a CIA-connected friend of J. D. Tippit were too 
astronomical for comment, and were given none. 

What kept "the Wise allegation" from sinking into total oblivion over the 
years was the persistent conscience of Wes Wise, who in 1971 was elected 
mayor of Dallas. During his two terms as mayor (1971-76), Wise guided 
Dallas out from under the cloud of the assassination and at the same time 
saved the Texas School Book Depository from imminent destruction, pre- 
serving it for further research into the president's murder. 486 

In the fall of 2005, I interviewed Wes Wise, who recalled vividly T. F. 
White's description of his confrontation with a man looking like Oswald in 

the El Chico parking lot. Wise said he was so struck by the incident that he 
returned to the El Chico lot on a November 22 afternoon years later to reen- 

act the scene with similar lighting and a friend sitting in an identically parked 
car. Standing on the spot where T. F. White had and with the same degree of 
afternoon sunlight, Wise confirmed that one could easily recognize a driver's 
features from a "full face" look at that distance, irrespective of whether the 
car's window was up or down. 487 

The possible significance of what he had learned stayed with Wise during 
his years as a reporter and as Dallas mayor, in spite of its repeated dismissal 
by federal agencies. Knowing the value of evidence, Mayor Wise preserved 
not only the Texas School Book Depository but also the December 4, 1963, 
luncheon invitation on which he had immediately written down T. F. White's 
identification of the license plate on the Oswald car. Producing it from his 

files during our interview, Wise read to me over the phone T. F. White's exact 
identification of the license plate, as the auto mechanic had shown it to the 
reporter on the scrap of paper taken from his coveralls pocket, and as Wise 
had then copied it down on his luncheon invitation: "PP 4537. " 488 


JFK and the Unspeakable 

At the end of our conversation, Mayor Wise reflected for a moment on the 
question posed by Lee Harvey Oswald's presence elsewhere at the same time 
as T. F. White saw him in El Chico's parking lot (in a car whose license plate 
could now be traced, thanks to the scrupulous note-taking of White and 
Wise, to the employee of a major CIA contractor). 

"Well," he said, "You're aware of the idea of two Oswalds, I guess?" 489 

was especially aware of "the idea of two Oswalds" from the testimony of 
U.S. Air Force sergeant Robert G. Vinson of the North American Air 
Defense Command (NORAD). 490 Vinson not only saw the second Oswald on 
the afternoon of November 22 soon after T. F. White did. He actually wit- 
nessed the Oswald double escaping from Dallas in a CIA plane. Sergeant 
Vinson was already on the CIA getaway plane when the second Oswald 
boarded it. Vinson also got off the plane at the same CIA base as Oswald's 
double did, a few moments after him. Robert Vinson is a unique witness to 

the CIA's secret movement of an Oswald double out of Dallas on the after- 
noon of the assassination. 

On November 20, 1963, Sergeant Robert Vinson took a trip to Washing- 
ton, D.C., from Colorado Springs, where he was stationed at Ent Air Force 
Base on the staff of NORAD. The thirty-four-year-old sergeant had decided 
for the first time in his sixteen-year military career to go over his superiors' 

heads. His purpose in traveling to Washington was to ask why he had not 
received an overdue promotion. Vinson's rise in rank had been delayed in 
spite of his having received outstanding job evaluations at NORAD, where he 
served as administrative supervisor of the electronics division and held a 
crypto security clearance. 491 Sergeant Vinson was known by his NORAD com- 
manders as a mild-mannered subordinate who could be counted on not to 
raise uncomfortable questions. But after discussing at length the problem of 
his stalled promotion with his wife, Roberta, Robert Vinson decided now was 
the time to depart from his usual pattern of compliance. 492 

On Thursday, November 21, in a basement office of the Capitol Building, 
Sergeant Vinson met with a Colonel Chapman, who served as a liaison offi- 
cer between Congress and the Pentagon. While he looked over Vinson's 
papers, Chapman engaged in a phone conversation Vinson would not forget. 

Col. Chapman told the person on the other end of the line he "would 
highly recommend that the President not go to Dallas, Texas, on Friday 
because there had been something reported." 493 Chapman said the president 
should cancel his Dallas trip, even though an advance group of Congressmen 
whom Chapman was coordinating had already left the capital. 494 Vinson did 
not hear what the "something" was that moved Col. Chapman to urge the 
last-second cancellation of President Kennedy's Dallas trip (that would have 
followed by less than three weeks the last-second cancellation of his Chicago 
trip, where a four-man sniper team and an assassination scapegoat had been 

Washington and Dallas 


Col. Chapman referred Sergeant Vinson's promotion question to an office 
at the Pentagon. A personnel officer there scanned Vinson's records. The offi- 
cer was puzzled at why he hadn't been promoted. He assured him their office 
would look into the situation. 

The next day, November 22, Vinson took a bus to Andrews Air Force 
Base. He planned to hitch a ride home on the first available flight going to 
Colorado Springs or its vicinity. 

When an airman at the check-in counter told him there was nothing sched- 
uled that day going his way, Vinson still wrote his name and serial number 
on the check-in sheet. He said he was going for breakfast in the cafeteria and 
asked the airman to let him know "if anything should come through that 
you don't have a notice on." 495 A loudspeaker paged him fifteen minutes 
later. He left his breakfast sitting on the table, grabbed his bag, and ran for 
a plane that was pointed out by the airman, who said it was about to depart 
for Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. 

The plane down the runway that Vinson climbed aboard was a propeller- 
driven C-54, a large cargo plane. Unlike all the other planes Vinson had 
hitched a ride on, the C-54 bore no military markings or serial numbers. Its 
only identification was on its tail — a rust-brown graphic of an egg-shaped 
earth, crossed by white grid marks. 496 

The plane's door was open. When Vinson got in the C-54, he found it 
empty. He took a seat over the right wing. Through the window, he could see 
two men in olive drab coveralls walking around under the plane. Their cov- 
eralls bore no markings. 

In a minute, the two men got on the plane. They walked past Vinson with- 
out saying a word. The men closed the cockpit door. The engines started up, 
and the plane took off. 

Looking out the window at the runway disappearing beneath him, Vin- 
son reflected on the flight's strange beginning and his own anonymity. When- 
ever he had hitched a ride before with the Air Force, the crew chief had 
always asked him to sign the "manifest," or log. This flight didn't even have 
a crew chief, much less a manifest. 497 Nor did the pilot or co-pilot (if that's 
what the second man in the cockpit was) give him the usual friendly greet- 
ing. His reception had been total silence from the two men now flying the C- 
54 due west. 

At a location Vinson thought was somewhere over Nebraska, he suddenly 
heard an unemotional voice say over the intercom: 

"The president was shot at 12:29." 498 

Immediately after the flatly given announcement, the plane banked into a 
sharp left turn. It began heading south. 

About 3:30 P.M. Central Time, Vinson saw on the horizon the skyline of 
a city he was familiar with: Dallas. 

The plane turned and came in over Dallas in a southeast direction. It 
landed abruptly